Northland motorsport fans will be out in force this weekend as the annual International Rally of Whangārei gets under way.
The rally, which starts tomorrow and ends on Sunday, will feature drivers and cars from Japan, Ireland, the United States, Australia and around New Zealand on Northland's traditionally cambered and fast-flowing rural roads.
Competitors went through testing yesterday and would be officially welcomed today.
Drivers will be available for a public signing session tomorrow from 5.20pm-5.50pm at the Te Matau ā Pohe bridge, adjacent to Pohe Island.
The rally's ceremonial start will follow the signing session, in which drivers will travel around a 1.2km track around Pohe Island which includes a purpose-built 1m-high jump.
On Saturday, teams head north to tackle eight special stages comprising four groups of roads. Starting with the 20.39km "Marlow" near Otakairangi, the next stage is the 17.22km "Tapuhi", followed by the 15.97km "Crow's Nest" near Towai and the 14.82km "Helena" near Helena Bay. Teams return to Whangārei for a 20-minute service break before repeating the loop in the afternoon.
Sunday's journey south covers a further four stages repeated, starting with the 15.23km "Tangihua" south of Whatitiri, then the 16.40km "Waiotira", 8.32km "Millbrook" and infamous 22.55km "Waipū Caves". Teams then return to Whangārei for a service break and then repeat the course, returning for a ceremonial finish at the Town Basin from 3pm.
The Rally of Whangārei is the second round of both the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championships and the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship, so it would be a big attraction for Northland's motorsport enthusiasts.
"You get a lot of awesome roads around here, they are some of the best roads around to use and the fact that it's local is great," Dargaville rally driver Carl Adnitt said.
Adnitt, who would be competing in a separate "all-comers" category, has been a rally driver for 16 years and competed in the rally's first edition in 2006. The 31-year-old said it was great to see big names of motorsport like Hayden Paddon and Ken Block in Northland.
"Guys like Ken Block are great to get publicity because they've got such a big following but then you get the likes of Hayden Paddon and he's one of the best drivers in the world so it'll be awesome to see those guys."
Adnitt will dust off his triple rotor, 9000rpm, four-wheel drive Mazda RX8 for the rally this weekend after a year of non-use. Adnitt was happy to be back out on the road but cautious about his prospects.
"It's been a case of just getting back out there and for us it's about getting to the finish because we made a lot of changes in the car and with that comes issues.
"We've got to get used to the car again so it's a case of being consistent and finishing strong."
Adnitt will be driving with his long-time navigator, Aaron Conaghan, who was Adnitt's co-driver in his first rally 16 years ago.
"I've got a lot of trust in [Conaghan's] notes and it means that I can worry about driving and he worries about all the tricky stuff," Adnitt said.
"Aaron is a good friend and he does a really good job, I'm just lucky he likes being in the passenger seat and I like being in the driver's seat."
Spectators can enjoy free access to the service park (adjacent to the Northland Events Centre, Port Rd side) and ceremonial finish (Quayside Town Basin). Tickets for tomorrow's driver signing and opening ceremony start at $20 (under 15-aged kids are free).
Access to the rural stage spectator points is $10 per day. Spectators are reminded to respect the direction of the local community group marshals.