Whangarei kicks off Asia Pacific champs
Rally fans get only one chance this year to watch an international FIA category event in New Zealand, as the World Rally Championship Australasian round is rostered across the ditch in 2013.
The second round of the New Zealand Rally Championships, the International Rally of Whangarei, will host the opening stanza of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship for the seventh time, from May 18-19.
Teams from Japan, Sweden, Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia will compete against the top Kiwi drivers. An added interest for this year's event is the almost official Toyota entry in the field for the first time in many years.
Twenty-year-old New Zealander Michael Young is campaigning a Toyota Vitz RS, a joint effort between Cusco Racing and Toyota Racing Development. The Vitz, also known as the Yaris in New Zealand, will compete in the FIA 2WD Cup, the FIA Junior Cup and the Asia Cup.
Young has been a regular driver for Cusco Racing since 2011, winning the APRC's Junior Cup class in New Zealand and Australia in 2012.
"Starting on my home event will make the transition to a new car slightly easier and we have some 'benchmark' stage-times to compare the Toyota Vitz to the Group N Proton Satria we used in 2012.
"The New Zealand roads are very fast and should suit the Vitz, which has very good power to weight ratio.
"It's a new challenge and a great opportunity to be part of developing a new car," said Young. "All the events in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship have very different surfaces and conditions. Part of the challenge will be setting up the car to work in all those situations."
Event chairman Laurie Brenssell welcomes the addition of the Toyota as he reckons it'll bring added focus to the rally. "Add other international teams coming to New Zealand, and our own championship contenders will have plenty to aim for when it comes to bragging rights," he said.
Two Kiwi drivers owned the Whangarei rally in the first four years with three wins for Hayden Paddon and one to Chris West, with Aussie Chris Atkins picking up the last two wins. Paddon and co-driver John Kennard return to the event this year while they finalise plans for a possible return to the WRC later this year.
Changes to the competition criteria will see teams split in two groups with the offshore competitors and internationally eligible cars running ahead of most of the New Zealand championship contenders.
The rally gets under way on Friday, May 17, with a pre-event autograph session in the Cameron St mall from 3.30pm. The ceremonial start begins at 4.30pm with all the competing crews and cars taking part before being parked for the night ahead of Saturday's action.
Leaving Whangarei at 8am, the route takes competitors over roads around Parahi in the southwest, Waipu Caves and Brooks - including the Hella jump on Swamp Rd. They return to Whangarei for the new 1.5km Pohe Island Super Special stage before a 20-minute service break at the Town Basin. The route is repeated in the afternoon.
Sunday's racing starts at 6.55am and heads south through Waipu Gorge and on to Marohemo and Batley Rd, taking in Paparoa and Cassidy Rd, before returning to Whangarei for a 20-minute service break. The teams repeat the stages in the early afternoon, returning to the Quayside Town Basin for a ceremonial finish at 3.15pm.