Entries have opened for Australia’s biggest championship car rally of the year, the International Rally of Queensland, offering a free “wild card” opportunity for four drivers to test their skills against top overseas competitors on the Sunshine Coast late next month.

The rally on 30 July-1 August will host rounds of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, the FIA Pacific Cup and the Australian Rally Championship, plus State and Classic competitions, and organisers hope to attract up to 70 cars.

The prized wild card entries will be awarded to applicants selected from the Australian Rally Championship, allowing them to run as points-scoring Asia Pacific competitors against drivers with World Rally Championship experience such as Chris Atkinson (Australia), Alister McRae (Scotland), Katsuhiko Taguchi (Japan) and Guarav Gill (India).

International Rally of Queensland Director Errol Bailey said the wild cards would promote the four local drivers to the international group at the front of the field at no charge above their Australian Rally Championship entry fee.

“Australia develops some of the world’s best young rally drivers and this will be their only chance this year to demonstrate their talents on home ground in similar equipment to the internationals’,” Mr Bailey said.

“Now that Australia is re-established on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar with the next Rally Australia scheduled for September 2011, young drivers who hope to follow the likes of Chris Atkinson on to the world stage need to test themselves against the benchmarks.

“If they are selected and score Asia Pacific Championship points in Queensland, they will be eligible to continue at their own cost in the remaining rounds in New Caledonia, Indonesia and China and potentially do well in this prestigious series.”

Entry forms for the International Rally of Queensland are available on the website www.rallyqueensland.com.au and will be accepted until 5 pm on 9 July.

This year’s rally will introduce several important new features, including a bitumen Super Special Stage under lights near Caloundra on Friday 30 July, a remote service park in the main street of the hinterland township of Kenilworth and a public meet-and-greet stopover in Cooroy.

Sixteen gravel Special Stages will be run over Saturday and Sunday in the Imbil State Forest, near Gympie. The total competitive distance of 276 kilometres includes two stages of around 35 kms, among the longest in international rallying.

The International Rally of Queensland will be round five in the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, which also visits China, Japan, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Indonesia and Malaysia.

After three rounds, Japan’s Katsu Taguchi leads the drivers’ pointscore, Monaco-based Queenslander Chris Atkinson will be hoping his new factory-backed Proton Satria Neo S2000 can deliver its full potential to help him win his home rally for the first time since 2004.

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