GREAT LINE-UPS OF COMPETITIVE CARS FIGHT FOR TOP SPOTS IN TWO EXCITING CHAMPIONSHIPS
The weekend marks the return of the International Rally of Whangarei, one of New Zealand’s biggest rallying events.
The 16-stage, 275KM rally signals the opening round of the 2016 FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), as well as round two of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC). That means we will see a high-quality grid of competitive cars fighting for top spots in their respective championships.
Eight international entries will travel to the event, including Skoda Fabia R5 drivers Gaurav Gill and Fabian Kreim.
Seeded second behind his Team MRF Skoda teammate, the 23-year-old Kreim comes off finishing second in the 2015 season with the factory-backed Skoda Auto Deutschland squad — a marker he aims to improve on as he balances his German commitments with a full APRC campaign in 2016.
“I am absolutely delighted to be able to take on the challenge of the APRC with Skoda,” he said.
“All the rallies are obviously new to me, and I will have a lot to learn. However, I hope I can establish myself among the front-runners and challenge for race wins as quickly as possible at these international events.”
Seeded behind Kreim is the sole Kiwi driver in the APRC; Mike Young. Piloting a Subaru Impreza, Young and his NZ co-driver Malcolm Read are excited to launch this season on home soil.
“Every year I look forward to Whangarei for the sheer joy of the roads,” Young said.
“I’m feeling good ahead of this weekend. I’ve been getting a bit of seat time during the off season and competed at a rally in Western Australia, which obviously helps. Cusco always prepare a top-notch car so I’m sure we can get another good result again this year.
“Plus I also have the advantage of having Malcolm in the car, and he knows the roads up there. In saying that, we’ll just approach this rally like all the others ... to finish first, first you must finish ... I’m sure it will be a competitive event against the new Skoda cars, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Kiwi up-and-comer Mike Young hopes to challenge some of the newer entries with his Group N Impreza. Picture / Asia-Pacific Sports Media
The APRC field is rounded out by a selection of international drivers; popular veteran Sanjay Takale (India), Renault Clio pilot Scott Pedder (Australia), and a trio of Japanese drivers — Fuyuhiko Takahashi, Makoto Kawahara, and Tatsuo Koizumi.
Headlining our domestic line-up is World Rally Championship star Hayden Paddon, fresh from last weekend’s Rally Argentina. Paddon, his co-driver John Kennard, and their new AP4 Hyundai i20 will be clear local favourites after they claimed a victory at round one of the NZRC at the Rally of Otago — winning by a record 9min 22sec margin.
Ben Hunt (Subaru), David Holder (Mitsubishi), and Emma Gilmour (Suzuki) all showed pace at the Rally of Otago, but couldn’t match Paddon’s consistency over the course of the two day rally. All get another chance to challenge Paddon’s pace in Whangarei.
Like Paddon, Hunt finds himself having to adapt to a new car.
“I think the new Hydraulink Subaru will also be suited to the roads up there so hopefully we can bring a solid result home,” he said. “Rally Whangarei is always an event Tony [Rawstorn] and I enjoy. Personally I love the roads because of the huge camber, smooth surface and high speeds that we get up to.”
A further 41 entries bolster the domestic line-up, including new-generation cars that will aim to follow in Paddon’s footsteps. Glenn Inkster’s Skoda Fabia and Andrew Hawkeswood’s Mazda 2, with Paddon’s i20, complete the trio of Force Motorsport-built platforms.
The M2 Competition-built Volkswagen Polo R of Shannon Chambers returns, as does Brian Green’s Team RalliArt NZ Mitsubishi Mirage.
The event starts on Friday evening, with spectators having the chance to get close to the cars and drivers in Whangarei’s town centre before two night stages rounding out the day.
Over the following two days, the field will travel north to Kawakawa, heading south of Whangarei on the Sunday for the finish.