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Dunedin will be this weekend’s host to the season opener of the 2007 Vantage Aluminum Joinery New Zealand Rally Championship. 

A six round series traveling the length of the country, there will be 25 crews start the season vying for four car category titles.

In the lineup are two international drivers attempting to out-gun New Zealand’s top driving talent: Scot Alister McRae and American Ken Block. 

Heading the list of local entries is double championship winner Richard Mason - who is to debut a brand new Subaru Impreza as part of his title defence.

Also in for title honours, Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour has declared she is out of her apprenticeship and looking for a true measure of her ability. Driving a Subaru Impreza, she has also announced her partner Glenn Macnea, having recently retired fro the WRC, will be her season co-driver.

Part of a two-car team, Palmerston North’s Sam Murray adds to the Subaru strength. Having finished third in 2006 he will also be running American Ken Block as part of the FRAM filters backed package.

Another top billing from last season’s performance line-up, Mitsubishi campaigner Brett Martin returns with his Lancer EVO9, joined by South Island based co-driver Grant Marra.

With a brand new Lancer EVO9, Rotorua’s Dean Sumner has the added honour of being last season’s final round winner at the Nelson rally.

Aside from the Group-N 4WD cars, other categories include the Kiwi-2, Group-N 2WD (Ford Fiesta) and Classic classes.

Starting with a clean slate, this weekend’s opening round offers little in terms of expected favorites. The cresty brows associated with the Otago event are all familiar with the top players, along with the descriptive note system.

Of the variables that will separate time performance between the teams, tyre compound choice and accuracy in calling/interpreting the descriptive notes will be as important as driver ability.

Starting this evening with an opening ceremony and demonstration runs around Dunedin’s Forbury Park Trotting Track, the 14 stage gravel action begins at 8am on Saturday morning.

Trekking out to Whare Flat and down the southern forestry region of Berwick, the cars return for the Dunedin street-side Super Stage at 4pm.

Restarting again at 7:30am Sunday morning, the cars complete a further six stages before the Forbury Park rally stage conclusion at 2pm. The event wraps-up with a finish ceremony in Dunedin’s Octagon from 4:15pm.

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