Whangarei Heads dairy farmer Ben Jagger is the leading local competitor for the International Rally of Whangarei. The event, which runs from 15 to 17 July, counts as the fourth rounds of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) and the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC); it covers 301.9km competitive stages on gravel roads in the Kaipara and Whangarei districts.
 
Jagger and co-driver Ben Hawkins will line up among the 22 APRC-registered competitors having secured, for the second time, one of the coveted ‘wildcard’ APRC entries. This means the pair starts ahead of their New Zealand championship rivals, and potentially enjoy better road conditions afforded by starting further up the running order.
 
Driving the Seed Force Subaru STI, Jagger competes in the event alongside the likes of former World Rally Championship drivers Alister McRae and Chris Atkinson, who drive for the Proton MEM World Rally Team.
 
Jagger agrees securing the APRC wildcard position adds prestige to their weekend. “That was definitely important for us. Getting that wildcard entry hugely increases our exposure and it also creates a bit more hype for our local supporters to also cheer us on that little bit more,” says the 22-year-old.
 
Under the watchful eye of over 70 media from China, Indonesia, India and New Zealand, Jagger says the international presence is a key ingredient to an offshore career. This aspect has him eyeing the goal of a top-ten finish overall.
 
“That would be something, because of the quality of the international field. And it would be something too for our supporters – we need more consistent finishing, which we struggled with last year.”
 
Heading into a busy season for a dairy farmer, Jagger says he aims to make the most of not having to travel.
 
“It’s pretty hectic on the farm at the moment trying to get everything ready, but we do have the advantage of a home event without the pressure of being away, trying to sort out accommodation for everyone and the associated issues. Plus the team are all nearby. They all know the town so everything is in easier reach for us; it makes things a lot more straightforward.”
 
In their fourth NZRC season, Jagger and Hawkins, known as ‘the two Bens’, now enjoy the confidence that comes with more experience at managing the potential perils of rally competition. Jagger is currently placed second in the NZRC junior title standings and says he and Hawkins are a lot wiser this time around.
 
“What’s different this year? That we’ve had a bit more experience writing pace notes [which Hawkins uses to describe the competitive stages for Jagger]. Preparing pace notes is a real art and something you need a lot of practise with. As far as the car goes, the suspension is on its way back from Norway at the moment. It’s got the latest valving from Reiger, which has been updated, so the car should be 100% handling wise. We’ll get to test it all the week before the rally. As far as the championship goes I’m chasing the junior title which we missed out on last year – this rally will be important in getting closer to securing that,” adds Jagger.
 
Jagger has clear goals for the future. “After 2011 I would like to work towards driving in the APRC or its subsidiary competition, the Pacific Cup, then look at moving onto the WRC Academy which is running for the first time this year. This is where the exposure from having the wildcard is really going to benefit me, so I’ll be out to make the most of it.”
 
The two Bens will again embrace the opportunity to be part of pre-event promotional activities. On Friday morning, 15 July, they’ll be helping give colouring competition winners a ride to school in the Seed Force Subaru. Then they head off for the shakedown test runs at Pohe Island, before joining the Kiwi contingent to race international drivers in the waka challenge [out-rigger canoe race] from 1:15pm alongside Quayside Town Basin. Jagger and Hawkins then head to the Cameron Street Mall from 3:30pm for the driver autograph signing session before the ceremonial start activities start at 4:30pm. Each competitor takes their car across the start ramp, beginning at 5pm in reverse order from the official starting list. This means the international field, including the two Bens, are in the last group to complete the ceremonial start ramp celebrations.
 
Other competitors from the wider Northland area include Kerikeri’s Kingsley Thompson (Mitsubishi Evo X) with nine others from Whangarei competing in the Clubmans field which follows the APRC and NZRC competitors through the rally stages. These include Brendan Oakden (Subaru STI), Andrew Phillips (Mitsubishi Evo 3), Ben Haselden (Subaru STI), John Tee (Ford Escort), Murray Huband (Subaru STI), Brian Ogie (Toyota Corolla), Dermott Malley (Ford Fiesta ST), Andy Smith (Toyota Starlet) and Rodney Langdon (Subaru STI).
 
The rally action on Saturday and Sunday takes competitors as far south as Maungaturoto and back to Whangarei for the super special stage at Pohe Island before wrapping up with the ceremonial finish at Quayside Town Basin on Sunday afternoon.
 
News, the rally itinerary, map and spectator information are available from the event website www.rallywhangarei.co.nz

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