India's Gaurav Gill and Australia's Glenn Macneall confirmed their favouritism for this weekend's International Rally of Whangarei by setting the fastest time in yesterday's shakedown of the international field contesting the opening round of the 2016 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC).
The rally began in earnest late yesterday evening, with Gill and co-driver Macneall hot favourites to take out the title and piloting the new season international specification MRF Tyres SKODA Fabia R5 car.
Gill set a time of 48.8sec at his fourth attempt around the 1.45km Hella Pohe Island gravel road test course.
Second fastest was teammate and debutant to the series - Germany's Fabien Kreim and co-driver Frank Christian with a time of 50.7sec in their second attempt. New Zealand nationals Michael Young and Malcolm Read set third fastest time in their Cusco-prepared EZY Racing Subaru Impreza with a best time of 51.3sec.
World Rally Championship Rally Argentina winners Hayden Paddon and John Kennard led the Kiwi contingent contesting the national category event, setting a time of 48.2sec in their New Zealand specification Hyundai i20 car.
The rally's ceremonial start was at the Te Matau a Pohe bridge from 5pm, followed at 7pm by the cars tackling two runs of the Hello Pohe Island Super Special Stage - being held under lights.
That was where the clock started for the journey across 275km of the Northland region's fast flowing gravel roads. The journey takes the teams as far north as Kawakawa today for eight timed special stages on the fast flowing cambered roads the rally is famous for.
Tomorrow's final leg heads south of Whangarei for a further six stages, returning for a ceremonial finish at the Town Basin from 3pm.
The rally is expected to bring around $5 million of economic benefit to the district but the international exposure the racing gets is priceless, organisers say.