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Valentino Rossi, World motorcycling racing's superstar has made a belated arrival here to prepare for this weekend's Hamilton based Rally of New Zealand in which he will drive a Subaru Impreza World Rally Car.

And within half an hour of touching down at Auckland airport from Hong Kong he was in a helicopter on his way to start reconnaissance at the first special stage south of Pirongia.

The diminutive Rossi looked more like a surfer than a seven times World Motorcycle champion.

His late arrival here - the Subaru World Rally Team which is running his car would like to have had him on the ground on Sunday - was the result of promotion commitments in the Middle East over the weekend.

Now he just wants to enjoy himself and "have fun."

While Rossi has been linked to a possible future in Formula One with Ferrari, his preference is for rallying.

"It's my second great passion after motorcycle racing," he said. "I have done a little bit before with Subaru in Italy last year and decided to try here because I know it is one of the best rallies in the championship."

Another reason for competing in the event furtherest away from Europe was to escape the constant attention of the world's media.

"This is far away from all the journalists and hype," said Rossi, one of the best paid sportsmen on the planet, whose every move is scrutinized by the mass media in the northern hemisphere.

New Zealand will be Rossi's second attempt at a WRC event. In 2002 he started Britain's RAC Rally and gained more media attention than rallying's regular stars. But he found the pressure over bearing for what was supposed to be some relaxation after a long season of motorcycle racing.

Although he has not been to New Zealand before, one of his Yamaha team mechanics is a Kiwi. "I've been told a lot about New Zealand and I think I will like it."

As for his goals in the next week, Rossi is not aiming too high.
"I want to understand how the car works and my potential in rallying and make the finish," said Rossi. "But I want to have fun and enjoy myself."

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