For the 12th year in a row New Zealand’s Northland region and host city Whangarei will again entertain drivers from foreign cultures and countries, for the 4-6 May ENEOS International Rally of Whangarei.
The opening round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) and the second round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC), 53 cars will take to the Northland roads to test their mettle.
Headed by WRC driver Hayden Paddon and co-driver Mal Peden in a Hyundai i20, the event includes four international entries including Australian based Kiwi Michael Young and co-driver Malcolm Read (Toyota Yaris), Yuya Sumiyama and Takahiro Yasui (Japan) in a Skoda Fabia R5, Fabio Frisiero and Simone Scattolin (Italy) in a Peugeot 208 and Fuyuhiko Takahashi and Mitsuo Nakamura (Japan) in a Subaru STI.
Cars range from factory supported Toyotas to classic era MKII Ford Escorts.
New Zealand’s only international event for the year, competition at the higher FIA sanctioned level gives competitors a chance to recontour the roads twice prior to competition – a standard procedure at WRC level. That’s where three-time winner Hayden Paddon says he got his step-up to be able to compete at the sport’s pinnacle.
The event also revives use of the cambered and flowing road style known famously internationally – that earned New Zealand a reputation for having the best rallying roads in the world.
Italian Fabio Frisiero has competed on New Zealand roads twice before, at the 2002 and 2007 Rally New Zealand events, and says he is looking forward to driving them again: “I remember the fantastic gravel roads, but maybe there will be some mud too. But in any case, I will be there to rally in that fantastic country.”
There to support visiting spectators, numerous community groups provide a variety of services from spectator marshalling to on-site catering and include the Whangarei Rotary Club, Hikurangi Lions, Mid Northern Scout Group, Maromaku School Group, Opouwhanga Hall, Kamo Club – Motorsport Section, Mid Western Lions, Waipu Lions, Waiotira Hall and Maugakaramea School.
Chairman of the Organising Committee Mr Willard Martin again urges people to get out and see the cars – bearing in mind their safety.
“The sight and sound of the cars in full-flight is very alluring and it’s easy to see why spectators become so fanatical at getting up-close. That said, we want everyone to return home safely. We ask people to check they’re spectating from a safe area and in support of the marshals who are at the designated viewing locations.”
Many of the closed sections of road have idyllic spectating points – a short drive from the region’s main roads.
While the rural action starts on the Saturday, the cars and teams will be at Whangarei’s “The Fishhook of Pohe” bridge (Te Matau A Pohe) from 5pm for the autograph session, which is followed from 6pm with an official welcome. The cars then contest two runs of the adjacent Super Special Stage at the William Fraser Memorial Park from 7:10pm.
On the Saturday the journey begins at 6:30am as the event heads north for the day’s three double-run stages that loop up toward Piahia and then across to Helena Bay before returning to Whangarei and a service break. The journey is repeated in the afternoon before the cars are again placed in a secure overnight park.
Sunday starts at 7am with the action heading south through Waipu Caves and Millbrook areas before heading west and north through Waiotira and back to Whangarei for a service break mid-morning. Following the late morning early afternoon repeat run the cars then arrive back in Whangarei for the ceremonial finish, held at the Quayside Town Basin from 3pm.
Spectating at the Friday night start and Pohe Island Super Special Stage is $15 per adult (or $20 at the gate). While access to the rural stage spectator points is $10 per day.
The event also receives support from Whangarei District Council and Far North District Council.