The PROTON R3 Rally Team will field a two-car entry on the International Rally of Whangarei, the third round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, which starts on New Zealand's North Island tomorrow evening (July 2).

As usual, Scotsman Alister McRae and Australian Chris Atkinson will drive the two factory Satria Neo S2000s on what is one of the most popular rallies in the series, and undoubtedly some of the best roads in the world. Both McRae and Atkinson have competed in the Whangarei and Kaipara districts previously and both of them will be pushing to collect their first maximum score in this year's FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship.

McRae came within an ace of winning the opening round of the series, only to be denied by a Malaysian rock which damaged the engine on his Satria and forced him to retire from the lead of the event. The former British Rally Champion and his team-mate Atkinson are both buoyant about their chances on the two-day event which starts from the city of Whangarei, 160 kilometres north of Auckland.

New Zealand is a country steeped in sporting pedigree and the International Rally of Whangarei is a highlight in the nation's motorsporting calendar, with the fastest Kiwis coming out to challenge the best of the Asia Pacific region. The competition over the rally's 16 stages will be intense, but the drivers are certain to come out with a smile on their faces; it's impossible not to enjoy the steeply-cambered gravel roads.

Running in the middle of the southern hemisphere's winter, there has been plenty of rain in the Northland area leading up to the event and those damp conditions are likely to continue into the weekend, with temperatures of around 12 degrees centigrade expected.

Of the two PROTON drivers, McRae has marginally more experience of the country. He has competed on New Zealand's round of the World Rally Championship six times and once on the Rally of Otago (a New Zealand Rally Championship event) in 2007. Atkinson made his debut in the World Rally Championship in New Zealand in 2004 and drove in the country on a further four occasions, with his best result being fourth overall in 2007.

After completing the recce of the route today (Thursday) the two PROTON drivers will conduct a final shakedown test of their Satrias tomorrow morning.


Alister McRae said:
"As always when you arrive in this country, you can't wait to get out onto the roads, they're fantastic. I'm pretty pleased to see the rain coming down as well, this will bind the gravel together and give us drivers running closer to the front of the field better grip. On an event like this, there's a lot of local talent right through the field and, if it had been bone dry in the run up to the event, a car starting just outside the top 10 would have had a big advantage with the loose gravel swept off the surface of the road. Hopefully this won't be the case this week. I've competed here a few times before, but not on these roads for about six years, so I'll be making new pace notes. This rally is going to suit our car, the roads are fast and flowing. We've shown good speed in the APRC this season and, with a bit of luck, we can put the right result together this week. I wouldn't say I was confident of winning, but I certainly think we should be looking at the podium and preferably the top step!"

Chris Atkinson said:
"I have good memories of rallying in New Zealand as it was the first place I competed in the world championship. It's a great country to come and drive in, there's so much enthusiasm for the sport out here. And the roads are awesome, so much fun and definitely the best in the world to drive on. The good thing is that these roads will work for the Super 2000 cars. They're fast and flowing allowing us to use power and keep the car moving. It's the cambers on the road which really make the difference here, though. By keeping the car on the right side of the camber, you can carry so much more speed into the bend, it's almost a slingshot through the corner. But, and this is a big but, if you get the car on the wrong side of the camber, it will work completely against you and spit you off the road in no time. The roads really are that good, but they have to be treated with plenty of respect."

Chris Mellors (team principal) said:
"We're looking for a result from this rally. On both of the previous rounds we have shown good pace, and Alister was very unlucky not to win in Malaysia, but now we need to put some good points down. From the drivers in the cars right through the team, everybody is working tremendously hard on this programme and there's so much enthusiasm both in Britain and in Malaysia for what we're doing, we just need the break. Both Alister and Chris have good experience of these type of stages; the stages in New Zealand, particularly these up in the Northland, are drivers' stages and we've got two of the best drivers around: all the ingredients are there for a great weekend."

Event data:

Round: 3/7, FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship
Based: Whangarei, New Zealand
Stages: 16
Liaison distance: 470.46km
Competitive distance: 285.26km
Total distance: 755.72km
Shakedown: Pohe Island, Whangarei (Friday July 2, 1000-1200)
Pre-event press conference: Media Centre (Friday July 2, 1430)
Post-event press conference: Media Centre (Sunday July 4, 1600)
Time difference: New Zealand is GMT+12hrs

Event timetable:

Friday July 2
Ceremonial start: Whangarei: 1700

Saturday July 3
SS1 Mititai 1 (33.99km): 0918
SS2 Girls High School 1 (27.06km): 1001
SS3 Otuhi 1 (9.35km): 1049
SS4 Whangarei Superspecial 1 (1.50km): 1127
Service: Quayside Basin, Whangarei: 1137
SS5 Mititai 2 (33.99km): 1348
SS6 Girls High School 2 (27.06km): 1431
SS7 Otuhi 2 (9.35km): 1519
SS8 Whangarei Superspecial 2 (1.50km): 1557
Service: Quayside Basin, Whangarei: 1607

Sunday July 4
SS9 Batley 1 (20.06km): 0813
SS10 Wairere 1 (18.95km): 0851
SS11 Millbrook 1 (10.53km): 0924
SS12 Waipu Caves 1 (21.19km): 0947
Service: Quayside Basin, Whangarei: 1040
SS13 Batley 2 (20.06km): 1228
SS14 Wairere 2 (18.95km): 1306
SS15 Millbrook 2 (10.53km): 1339
SS16 Waipu Caves 2 (21.19km): 1402
Finish: Quayside Basin, Whangarei: 1530 
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