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The strongest field of rally cars and drivers to compete in Queensland, including many internationals, is expected in May following the opening of entries for the 41st Rally Queensland tomorrow.

The rally, to be staged on the Sunshine Coast on 8-10 May, will host rounds of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, the Australian Rally Championship and the Queensland Rally Championship – plus a rich competition aimed at giving future young stars a shot at the World Rally Championship.

With its promotion to international status for the first time, Rally Queensland is expected to attract up to 20 of the Asia Pacific region’s top teams plus the best from around Australia in a total field of around 80.

They will compete over more than 220 kilometres of challenging gravel roads in the Imbil State Forest, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

Already-confirmed starters are three-time APRC champion driver Cody Crocker, who will drive again for the Singapore-based Motor Image team with a new 2009 Subaru Impreza and a new teammate, the championship’s first female driver, Emma Gilmour.

New Zealand champion Hayden Paddon will drive a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, as will dual Australian champion Simon Evans and Australian rising talents Nathan Quinn and Ryan Smart.

Paddon and Quinn, both 21, will be among the hottest contenders in the only Australian qualifying event for the Pirelli Star Driver program, in which the prize for one APRC driver is a fully-funded and supported campaign in the 2010 World Rally Championship.

A number of regular Australian championship drivers are expected to nominate for the Asia Pacific ranks at Rally Queensland, taking the opportunity of a specially-reduced international licence fee to test themselves at a higher competitive level.

“With a world-class field, Rally Queensland will be an event not to be missed by competitors or spectators,” Event Director Errol Bailey said.

“The Sunshine Coast in May promises not only fantastic rallying, but also perfect autumn weather and an abundance of visitor attractions from pristine beaches and lush hinterland to craft markets, great restaurants and venues such as the renowned Australia Zoo.”

Rally Queensland will be one of the most important motorsport events in Australia this year.

It joins events in Japan, China, New Caledonia, Indonesia, Malaysia and New Zealand in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship, one of only six regional championships sanctioned by the world governing body of motorsport, the Paris-based FIA.

APRC status promises a major international promotional boost for the Sunshine Coast as well as an increase in the number of visitors and direct spending associated with competing teams.

Showcasing the coast’s tourist attractions through television coverage in more than 100 countries potentially will be worth around $1.5 million, according to the series organisers.

The rally competition will be supported by the inaugural Sideways in the Sun Festival, featuring events aimed at making the weekend an involving experience for the public.

Events are scheduled to include a Top 10 Shootout student and spectator day, a rally car cavalcade on the Sunshine Coast, the traditional ceremonial start and driver meet-and-greet night, driver public appearances, service and spectator park activities and an interactive zone.

The website www.sidewaysinthesun.com will be the main information source for spectators and on-line followers throughout the rally.

Official rally headquarters will be at the beachfront SurfAir Marcoola Beach resort, with the APRC cars returning there each day from Imbil.
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