Top local drivers like Emma Gilmour, from Dunedin, are up against international stars like Australian Proton driver Chris Atkinson during July’s International Rally of Whangarei. Photo: Geoff Ridder

The International Rally of Whangarei returns to the highly-regarded gravel roads of the Whangarei and Kaipara districts with the dates of 15 to 17 July confirmed for the 2011 running of the intensely-competitive motor rally.

The event is a competitor favourite as well as being an exciting and dynamic motorsport spectacle which showcases Whangarei, Northland and Kaipara in a unique way to the all-important Asia Pacific market, says organising committee chairman Laurie Brenssell.

“The event is the fourth round of this year’s FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), a prestigious regional championship which has attracted the highest number of entrants for some time,” says Brenssell. “Fourteen drivers from Japan, China, Great Britain, Australia, India, Malaysia, France (New Caledonia) and New Zealand are confirmed to compete in the International Rally of Whangarei, which includes a new Junior APRC category. The event already attracts considerable media coverage in each of the drivers’ home countries, so the increase in competitor numbers will only boost the profile of this year’s event.”

Confirmed drivers include former WRC stars Alister McRae, from the UK, and Chris Atkinson, from Australia, who return with the latest Super 2000-spec Proton Satria Neos. The top-rated Proton pairing is up against the two MRF Tyres Mitsubishi team-mates, last year’s champion Katsuhiko Taguchi from Japan, who is the APRC’s most experienced driver, and Indian Gaurav Gill.

“We’re also delighted to welcome back New Zealand’s top rally duo and three-time winners of the Whangarei event, Hayden Paddon and John Kennard from Geraldine and Blenheim respectively,” Brenssell says. “Hayden and John have just won the Portugal round of the Production Car World Rally Championship, the feeder series to the full World Rally Championship. These two talented Kiwis return to defend their Whangarei title with a new Subaru-based New Zealand rally team and will be a real force to be reckoned with for the other competitors.”

The International Rally of Whangarei also counts as the fourth round of New Zealand’s top rallying competition, the

Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship, in association with Neil Allport Motorsports (NZRC).

“For our Kiwi drivers, international rallies of this kind offer important opportunities to test their talents against others in our region and demonstrate their competitive abilities to the world’s factory-backed rally teams which do keep an eye out for up-and-coming drivers,” says Brenssell.

The NZRC has also received strong competitor support in 2011 with 31 competitors registered to date across four categories.

“Paddon, a double NZRC champion, is running in the top tier NZRC four-wheel-drive production car (Group N 4WD) category in Whangarei where he’ll be up against defending champion Dean Sumner, from Rotorua, and other former champions Richard Mason, from Masterton, and Chris West, from Christchurch.

“Whangarei fans are also sure to be looking out for top local team-mates Ben Jagger and co-driver Ben Hawkins – they’re known as ‘the two Bens’ and they’ll want to deliver a good performance in front of their home crowd.”

One of the key roles for the event’s clerk of the course, Willard Martin, is to plan the rally route which takes competitors and fans from south from Whangarei city to the Kaipara Harbour.

Martin says: “It is possible to run an event of this nature only with the support of numerous people such as the residents of the roads we use for the competitive stages. It is a pleasure to work with personnel from Whangarei District Council and Kaipara District Council, who along with the charitable Maungaturoto Co-operative and other community groups and residents, provide considerable assistance in helping us run a truly world-class motorsport event.

Martin also notes: “This is the fifth consecutive year the region has hosted the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA)-sanctioned championship rally, and once again the scenic roads, bush and harbours around Whangarei will feature in the photographs and television footage seen by millions across the Asia Pacific.”

The competitors’ service park and the rally headquarters are again based at Whangarei’s Quayside Town Basin with the rally route taking competitors south from Whangarei as far as Tanoa on the upper reaches of the Kaipara Harbour, just west of Brynderwyn.

“The northern-most competitive stage is the super special stage at Pohe Island, the recreational reserve on Riverside Drive, just a couple of kilometres from central Whangarei. It’s a fairly compact route which challenges competitors and offers fans numerous excellent viewing points, such as Pohe Island and Hella Bridge in Wairere Road near Maungaturoto,” Martin adds.

The event’s organisers, the team from Rally New Zealand, accept entries from 22 April until 22 June, with the seeded entry list being published on 24 June, three weeks before the rally runs.

Spectator information, maps and entry lists will all be updated on the event website, http://www.rallywhangarei.co.nz, as details are confirmed over coming months








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