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Seventy-six teams from nine countries have confirmed their entry for the International Rally of Whangarei which runs from 15 to 17 July on roads through the Kaipara and Whangarei districts.
 
Heading the entry list is Japan’s Katsuhiko Taguchi who drives a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X and is one of 22 teams contesting the event as fourth round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC).
 
The International Rally of Whangarei also counts as the fourth round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) which includes local competitors in the Group N production car categories. A subsidiary event for NZRC Open, Kiwi 2, Historic Class and Clubmans competitors makes up the rest of the 76-strong field.
 
“Our APRC competitors are seeded according to their international ranking, and are followed by local competitors based on their position on the championship points-table. Other drivers are then seeded based on past or potential merit,” explains the event’s sporting manager Willard Martin.
 
“This means Taguchi, as the defending APRC champion, starts day one of the rally first on the road. He’s followed by Australia’s Chris Atkinson in a Proton Satria Neo, Indian Gaurav Gill in a Mitsubishi Evo X, Scot Alister McRae in the second Super 2000 category Proton Satria Neo and Australian Brendan Reeves, as the four drivers entered with FIA seedings.”
 
Top-placed New Zealand team and current NZRC points’ leader, Masterton’s Richard Mason, has accepted a deal to drive for the Chinese Soueast Motor Kumho Team headed by driver Fan Fan, meaning he’ll be driving for the overall rally win, prestigious APRC points for the team, and also for points in his usual New Zealand Rally Championship category. Rather than his usual Subaru, Mason will be driving the Mitsubishi Evo X that Brit Mark Higgins took to victory in the APRC event in Queensland, Australia in May.
 
“It is an opportunity with a quality team,” says Mason, a two-time NZRC champion. “We have been to China a number of times and admired the way Fan Fan ran his team. We have always been keen on doing some form of event with them and it worked out being a good time to do it at Whangarei.”
 
Emma Gilmour will also be looking to score APRC points as the Dunedin driver is entered by India’s MRF Tyres team. Gilmour is expected to have a similar benefit as Mason, when she starts among the APRC competitors further up the running order.
 
Malaysia’s Karamjit Singh, the 2001, 2002 and 2004 APRC champion, also returns to New Zealand, this time driving a two-wheel-drive Proton Satria Neo.
 
“It’s great to have a mix of familiar and new faces from such a range of countries,” added Martin. “New Caledonia’s Jean-Louis Leyraud (Subaru) and Daniel Palau (Subaru), Indonesians Rifat Sungkar (Mitsubishi) and Subhan Aksa (Mitsubishi), and China’s Fan Fan (Mitsubishi) and Hao Yuan (Mitsubishi) show the range and interest the APRC has attracted this year.”
 
“The strong international line-up also offers an opportunity for New Zealand teams to pace themselves against drivers from the different countries in a greater variety of cars than we’re normally used to.”
 
Four Kiwi teams have selected by the APRC executive as wildcard entries for the rally.
 
“The wildcard entrants are nominated by their country’s governing sporting body, up to four at each event, to give drivers the chance to run among the international competitors and score APRC points,” said APRC series co-ordinator Murray Brown.
 
This year, New Zealand’s four wildcard entrants are Whangarei’s Ben Jagger (Subaru STI), Rotorua’s Sloan Cox (Mitsubishi Evo X), Nelson’s Ben Hunt (Ford Fiesta ST150) and Christchurch’s Matt Jansen (Subaru STI).
 
The field for this year’s International Rally of Whangarei also includes current top-ranked Kiwi driver Hayden Paddon, from Geraldine in a Subaru STI. Also among the top-runners in the NZRC Group N production category is defending NZRC champion Dean Sumner from Rotorua (Mitsubishi).
 
“The premier NZRC production class also includes the four-wheel-drive Ford Fiesta of Auckland’s Dave Strong as well as two other international drivers, Japan’s Seiichiro Taguchi (Mitsubishi) and Indonesia’s Sanjay Ram Takle (Proton),” adds Martin.
 
The International Rally of Whangarei commences with pre-event testing and promotional activities on Friday 15 July, with the event based at Whangarei’s Quayside Town Basin. 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 the town basin on Sunday afternoon. Teams cover 301.12km of gravel road broken into 16 special stages over the two-day event.
 
Regularly-updated news, the rally itinerary and spectator information are available from the event website www.rallywhangarei.co.nz

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