Defending champion, Chris West, has stuck with the tried and true as he returns to defend his Rally Of Whangarei title in his Castrol/Exide Lancer this weekend
West won the event, also a round of the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, last year from eventual National Champion Hayden Paddon and Australian star Cody Crocker. Last year's victory was West's second in the far north, the previous win coming in 2006 before Asia-Pacific Rally Championship status was bestowed on the event.
However West, the National Rally Champion in 2004 and the National Group N Champion in 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2004, has had a difficult start to his 2009 campaign.
At the opening round in Hawkes Bay a gearbox problem caused him to retire on the first day while at the most recent round in Otago, West and co-driver Chris Cobham, finished seventh on both days of the event. At the time "Westy" described the effort as being "at the limit of what the car was capable of."
After the first two rounds of the five-round championship West is 6th overall in the Group N Class.
Since Otago West and the Andrew Simms Mitsubishi Rally Team have looked at the options, hoping to secure a more competitive package for the remainder of the championship.
Unfortunately those efforts proved to be unsuccessful. "There was a limited amount of time between Otago and Whangarei and we had minimal options. We felt as a team it was better to go with the devil we know rather than one we don't. That's not to say it won't happen for events later in the season," say's West. "We are looking at our options and with more time before Wairarapa I'm confident we have the time required to prepare a more competitive package."
Having made the decision to stick with the Castrol/Exide Lancer EVO 8 Westy say's the car has been prepared to the best of it's capability and specification. "We'll put our best foot forward. We have regrouped and the car has been rebuilt. We have looked at the engine and found that the car was very sick on one cylinder at Otago. It's a race against time just to have it ready for the start," say's West. "Everyone is putting in an effort to ensure we get the best out of the ageing Lancer."
The Rally Of Whangarei has provided West with much success in the past and it is one that the now Christchurch based South Cantabrian enjoys. "The roads are renowned from past Rally Of New Zealand's held in the area. They are some of the best roads in the country, recognised as such by many of the international stars who used to contest Rally New Zealand. It is an enjoyable part of the country too, the weather, the camber on the roads and of course the atmosphere is good with international APRC Champonship drivers present."
A ceremonial start to the event will take place from 5pm on Friday evening with the first car due to leave the start at 8.30am on Saturday. Sixteen Special Stages follow over the next two days with the first car expected to cross the finish ramp at Quayside Town Basin in Whangarei at 2.50pm on Sunday afternoon.
Chris West's campaign in the 2009 Vantage Aluminium Joinery New Zealand Rally Championship is supported by Castrol, Exide Batteries, NZ Ralliart, NZ Yokohama, The Mad Butcher, Andrew Simms Mitsubishi and Donnithorne Simms Mitsubishi.