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International Rally of Whangarei embraces safety technology.


Organisers of the May 18-19 International Rally of Whangarei, in association with the Brian Green Property Group, have embraced the latest technology to help keep competitors as safe as possible.

A new system called ‘RallySafe’ will keep track of the whereabouts of competitors while the latest St John services will be available should an incident occur during the 727.56km event.

Featuring the best rally drivers from throughout the Asia Pacific region contesting the first round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, the field includes a full line-up of competitors contesting the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship and Top Half series.

While the drivers are pushing the limits in the quest to be the best, keeping track of competitors during the event that uses rural roads throughout the Whangarei and Kaipara districts is paramount to organisers – who have extensive safety resources at the ready. For Clerk of the Course Steve Foster, knowing exactly where and when any incident happens is the key to the event’s success.

“With geographical limitations restricting terrestrial radio tracking the successful implementation of the Australian developed RallySafe system gives organisers a genuine ‘bird’s eye view’ of competitors in the event,” he explained. “ Using GPS and car status data the information is beamed skyward from each car to orbiting satellites. The information is disseminated and fed to computers at the event headquarters in Whangarei where organisers can display the information on a large screen.”

In-car ‘smarts’ that detect if a car has sustained a significant impact or suddenly stopped during competition raise a dual alarm – one in the car and one at the event headquarters. If the car occupants cancel the status change it notifies organisers they are okay.

Past experience of the system, its success and subsequent improvements has Foster looking forward to seeing the action by remote – and knowing everyone arrives back safe.

“It is going to save time – and that’s crucial when someone needs help,” added Foster. “While we have used manual tracking for a number of years this is that step up and comes with a number of features that assist competitors as well as us from a management perspective.

“And knowing if there is a situation, we can act with greater accuracy. We can pass more information to those in the vicinity and keep everything running as smooth as possible.”

One of the benefactors is Auckland based Grant Hirst, head of the St John motorsport safety and rescue team – one of the un-sung heroes of the event. Mixing work and pleasure Hirst is among a core of highly skilled volunteers who take time off work to be part of the event. An avid motorsport fan, Hirst says the RallySafe system greatly improves time to deployment should their services ever be required. Along with a St Johns communication specialist based in the event headquarters the rally has a helicopter that follows the action with an advanced paramedic aboard. Joined by a total of six Medical Intervention Vehicles (MIV) located at the special stage start lines and mid-points. Each has an advanced paramedic or doctor and a fireman plus the start locations have extrication cutting gear, fire suppression equipment as well as a full set of medical gear.

“At the direction of Steve Foster, the Clerk of the Course, he will notify our St Johns dispatcher where to send the helicopter as a first intervention – to give us an immediate report back as to what’s happening. If necessary we’ll then despatch the closest of those MIV’s,” says Hirst.

“Often we use the rally resources to help the local community as we have the personnel nearby. I could cite numerous occasions where rally medical staff have turned up to farms or other non-rally related incidents – including traffic accidents. Two years ago there was a serious road accident and we sent the helicopter as a first response – while a number of the passing competitors rendered assistance until emergency personnel arrived and took over.”

Hirst oversees a crew of 23 in his medical team.

The rally itself gets underway on Friday 17 May with a pre-event autograph session in the Cameron St mall from 3:30pm. The ceremonial start begins at 4:30pm with all the competing crews and cars taking part before being parked for the night ahead of Saturday’s action. Leaving Whangarei from 8am the route takes competitors over roads around Parahi in the south-west, Waipu Caves and Brooks – including the ‘Hella’ jump on Swamp Rd. They return to Whangarei for the 1.5km Pohe Island ‘Super Special’ stage before a 20minute service break at the Town Basin. The route is repeated in the afternoon with the cars then parked overnight following the service break.

Sunday begins at 6:55am and heads south through Waipu Gorge and on to Marohemo and Batley road, visiting Paparoa and Cassidy road before returning to Whangarei for a 20 minute service break. The teams repeat the stages in the early afternoon, returning to the Quayside Town Basin for a ceremonial finish from 3:15pm.

Spectators can watch for free at the start, finish and Quayside Town Basin service areas with access to rural viewing points, including the Pohe Island ‘Super Special’ stage costing just $10 per adult. Children under the age of 15 are free with a paying adult. A share of all spectator ticket revenue goes to the local community groups that help run the spectator viewing areas.

A rally map, with clearly-marked spectator viewing points, is available free to download from the event website, or it can be collected from rally headquarters at Quayside Town Basin (from 16 May) or found in the rally insert published in the Northern Advocate on 15 May.

Further news and ticketing information can be found on the website, or follow the event on Facebook.

More information about RallySafe:

An Australian based vehicle communication system that transmits hazard warnings via in-car units in competitive motor sports events, such as rally. The RallySafe system is to be used at all APRC and NZRC events for 2013 having been trialled and used extensively throughout the Asia Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand in 2012.

The RallySafe unit is a small module fitted to the vehicle, incorporating a colour display and keypad for the cars’ crew. It transmits and receives information via GSM and satellite radio transceivers, fed by GPS, proximity light beams and accelerometers.


· Real time tracking via GPS / Satellite transmission.

· In–car hazard notifications including ‘SOS’ capability.

· Timing (using light beams) aligned with in–car communication system.

· Ability to view progress of any car via internet and Google Maps.

· ‘Push to Pass’ capability (car ahead is notified when a car following is in close proximity).

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