Friday shakedown sets the tone for Rally of Whangarei
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Overcast conditions didn't lessen the excitement for the International Rally of Whangarei as the three day event kicked off.
Norway's Ole Vieby and co-driver Stig Rune, driving a Skoda Fabia R5 were the front runners in the shakedown test ahead of the rally.
Racing for Skoda Fabia R5, the pairing led all comers in what they hope is a sign of things to come in the opening round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship.
Defending champion Gaurav Gill was not too far behind and let the competition know he will be tough to beat.
Gill and new co-driver Stephane Prevot, also in a Skoda Fabia R5, completed the track in a time of 47.7 seconds.
Finnish WRC driver Jari Ketomaa wasn't far behind, despite completing just one run on the mixed surface test.
Ketomaa and co-driver Villie Mannisemaki showed their winning potential as they introduced their Mitsubishi Mirage R5 to the country and series.
Former V8 Supercar stalwart and four time Bathurst 1000 winner Greg Murphy had a lowkey start to his rally career, driving his Holden Barina on the dirt track at Pohe Island.
Christopher Gracie, driving a Honda Civic in the event, was on hand through the shakedown amongst other drivers giving people rides around the track.
He said driving in rallies is a brilliant experience.
"I spend my week at work making money to put into the weekends and nights spent working on my car," he said.
"The thing with rally is you put a lot into the sport and you don't always get a lot back out of it but it really is the best way to spend your time.
"It's a small community so you get to really know everyone involved wherever you end up racing."
Focus now turns to tonight's ceremonial start, before a double-run of Hella Pohe Island Super Special Stage - a 1km blast across the same course used this morning.
The action proper starts early tomorrow morning as the teams head north for two loops of four tests, the first starts at 7:26am with the 29.73km Riponui stage.
The cars then head as far north as Paihia before returning to Whangarei for a midday service break. Repeated in the afternoon the cars get a 45-minute service break at the end of the day before being securely parked for the night at the Toll Stadium.
Spectators can enjoy free access to the service park (adjacent to the Toll Stadium, Port Rd side) and ceremonial finish (Quayside Town Basin).
Tickets for Friday's driver signing, opening ceremony and the Hella Super Special Stage start at $20 (under 15-aged kids are free).
Spectating day passes for the rural stages cost $10 and can be pre-purchased from the Rally Headquarters (Ground Floor, Toll Stadium, 51 Okara Drive, Whangarei). Paddock parking is available at some locations for a gold coin donation.
- Northern Advocate