The 2016 International Rally of Whangarei is set to be a battle between experience and youth with the entry list for the event headed by former FIA Asia Pacific Rally Champion Gaurav Gill from India followed by young chargers Fabian Kreim of Germany and New Zealand's Mike Young.
The event contested over 275 kilometres of challenging gravel stages from April 29-May 1 is the opening round of the 2016 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship and has attracted eight international entrants from five nations, with a further 45 entrants in the national section of the event contesting the second round of the New Zealand Rally Championship.
Gill will be making his ninth consecutive start at Whangarei, and starts the event as favourite having been a regular pace setter in the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) in recent seasons. The 2013 APRC champion will again be partnered by Australian co-driver Glenn MacNeall.
Seeded two 23 year-old German driver Kreim will make his first visit to New Zealand's gravel rally stages. Kreim is the current driver for the ŠKODA AUTO Deutschland team in the German Rally Championship (DRM) where he won five races and finished second in the 2015 championship. Kreim also has experience in the World Rally Championship, finishing eighth in his WRC 2 class debut at last year's Rally Germany. The 23-year-old will be partnered by experienced co-driver Frank Christian in the ŠKODA Fabia R5.
"I am absolutely delighted to be able to take on the challenge of the APRC with ŠKODA," said Kreim.
"All the rallies are obviously completely new to me, and I will have a lot to learn. However, I hope I can establish myself among the front-runners and challenge for race wins as quickly as possible at these international events."
Gill and Kreim will both drive the latest specification ŠKODA Fabia R5 rallycars backed by Indian tyre manufacturer MRF with support from Czech Republic based automotive manufacturer ŠKODA.
Double APRC Production Cup Winner and 2015 series runner-up, 23-year old Mike Young will carry local hopes of victory. Young and co-driver Malcolm Read finished third at Whangarei in 2015 and will again campaign the Cusco Ezy racing Subaru Impreza throughout the 2016 APRC.
"Its awesome to be back in New Zealand for my home rally, every year I look forward to Whangarei for the share joy of the roads," commented Young. "I'm sure it will be a competitive event against the new Skoda cars, but I'm looking forward to the challenge. Hopefully its as close as last year. The plan is to have a good clean rally and the APRC Championship strong."
Indian driver Sanjay Takale returns to New Zealand for the fourth time as Young's teammate in the second Cusco Subaru. Takale and Japanese co-driver will contest the full Asia Pacific Championship.
The leading 2WD entry in the event for vastly experienced Australian driver Scott Pedder and co-driver Dale Moscatt. The 2014 Australian Rally champion contested the 2015 WRC2 Championship and will return to Whangarei at the wheel of an exciting Renault Clio R3.
Three Japanese teams round out the International field with Ahresty Rally Team driver Fuyuhiko Takahashi looking to build on his international rally experience driving a Subaru Impreza, Cherish Rally Team driver Makoto Kawahara returns to compete in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo after successfully completing the 2013 Whangarei event, and Astronaut Rally Racing will campaign a Subaru Impreza for Tatsuo Koizumi who last competed in New Zealand during the late 1990's.
Following behind the International entrants is a 45-car strong field of national teams competing in the second round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship. Kiwi WRC Star Hayden Paddon heads the entry in the Hyundai New Zealand Rally Team i20, followed by defending National Champion Ben Hunt in a Subaru Impreza.