WRC veteran and defending champ headline rally field
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WRC veteran Jari Ketomaa and defending champion Gaurav Gill headline the field at this weekend's International Rally of Whangarei.
Gill, the reigning Asia-Pacific rally champion, returns to New Zealand aiming for a third victory up north in his Skoda.
His biggest challenge on the international front appears to be veteran Finn Ketomaa, who has competed in New Zealand several times.
Ketomaa will drive one of two Mitsubishi Mirages contesting the opening round of the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship.
"I am extremely motivated about the Asia-Pacific Championship," Ketomaa said.
"I would really like to win it - and I think as a team we can win it. It's a very high profile championship and to add an FIA title to my CV would be fantastic."
On the domestic front 2016 New Zealand Rally champion David Holder gets his second rally behind the wheel of the Hyundai New Zealand i20 AP4 car. He won the season-opening Rally Otago earlier this month in his first rally with the car.
"The prep for Whangarei has been similar to Otago, with Jason [co-driver Jason Farmer] and I having spent some time going over previous years' pace notes and in-car video," Holder said.
"The short turn around between these two April events makes this a bit more difficult but we've been working hard in this area."
The 28-year-old says Rally Otago was a big learning curve in many respects, having had the opportunity for just a few kilometres of testing before jumping straight into the rally action as No1 seed.
"I didn't make any changes to the car setup during the Otago event, with so much else going on. For Whangarei, however, we will try to make a few small tweaks to help me become even more comfortable with the car."
Many eyes will be on Kiwi motorsport legend Greg Murphy, who lines up in his first major event in his new Holden Barina.
Murphy and teammate Josh Marston will have Barinas at the start line tomorrow night - Murphy missed Rally Otago due to his Supercars television commitments.
"It will be my first time competing in Whangarei," Murphy said. "I did get the opportunity two years ago to do a couple of runs with Ken Block while he was doing some testing prior to the event which was a great experience for more than one reason.
"Clearly my goals are going to be a lot different to Josh's with this being my first competitive drive in the car.
"Having both Penny Homes Holden Barinas here this weekend is a big moment for our team and everyone involved should be hugely proud of what has been achieved to make this happen.
"I am just really excited about getting behind the wheel and I think Mark Leonard [co-driver] is pretty pumped to get things under way, too."
Others to keep an eye out for include Dylan Turner, who will debut his Audi AP4 car at the event, Mazda 2 driver Andrew Hawkeswood, who impressed with a second place finish at Rally Otago and leading female driver Emma Gilmour in her Suzuki.
The rally begins in downtown Whangarei with two runs through the 1km Pohe Island stage before the rally heads north of the city on Saturday. Sunday sees cars head south of Whangarei before a ceremonial finish at the town basin on Sunday afternoon.