Fourteen World Rally Championship (WRC) crews headline the entry list for Brother Rally New Zealand, which runs from 21 to 24 June as the seventh round of this year's FIA WRC.
The event marks the 42nd running of the New Zealand rally which will again be based in Auckland and take competitors to much-loved rural roads around the Raglan and Waikato, Whangarei and Kaipara districts as well as new stages in and around Auckland.
Brother Rally New Zealand counts as rounds of the FIA Super 2000 and Production World Rally Championships (SWRC and PWRC) as well as being the fourth round of the 2012 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC), powered by Brother.
Working with the Pukekohe Car Club, Rally of New Zealand also runs a subsidiary event, the Possum Bourne Memorial Rally, for local competitors.
"The battle for victory in Brother Rally New Zealand will undoubtedly be intense," says the event's clerk of the course Willard Martin. "Watching the first six rounds of this year's FIA World Rally Championship we've seen fantastic action, challenges and super-heated competition between the leading drivers."
Eight-time world rally champion Frenchman Sébastien Loeb and long-time co-driver Daniel Elena lead the charge for current WRC manufacturers' championship leaders, the Citroën Total World Rally Team. Kiwi fans will see Loeb and his new team-mate Finnish driver Mikko Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen in action in the Citroën DS3 world rally cars for the first time in this country.
Archrivals, the Ford World Rally Team field their own stars – Jari-Matti Latvala and co-driver Miikka Anttila who took an exciting last stage victory in Rally New Zealand 2010. The Finns are joined at Ford this year by Norwegian star Petter Solberg and Great Britain's Chris Patterson. Solberg won the New Zealand event in 2004 while with Subaru.
Just one other Citroën appears at Brother Rally New Zealand in the hands of rising star Thierry Neuville. The Belgian driver usually drives for the Citroën Junior Team and did not have New Zealand on his schedule. However he has the opportunity to drive the Qatar World Rally Team's Citroën DS3 WRC with his co-driver Nicholas Gilsoul as the team's usual driver Nasser Al-Attiyah is unavailable as he concentrates on preparations for the London Olympic Games, where he again represents Qatar in skeet shooting. Neuville competes in New Zealand for the first time.
In contrast to just three Citroëns, Ford has six further representatives confirmed. Competing under the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team banner are Estonian pairing Ott Tänak and Kuldar Sikk – making their New Zealand debut – and Russian Evgeny Novikov with his French co-driver Denis Giraudet. The M-Sport crews drive similar Ford Fiesta RS WRC cars to Latvala and Solberg.
The Brazil World Rally Team is also fielding a different entry to their usual driver Brazilian Daniel Oliveira. The team's manager well-known Austrian driver Manfred Stohl, and co-driver Tina-Maria Monego, have opted to drive their Ford Fiesta here.
Petter Solberg's older brother Henning returns to New Zealand again this year with a privately-entered Ford. Although Solberg Snr is not competing in the full WRC this season, he has opted to run here with regular co-driver Ilka Minor. Finnish driver Jari Ketomaa with co-driver Mika Stenberg is also contesting Brother Rally New Zealand in a privately-entered Ford.
Wrapping up the blue oval contingent is American superstar Ken Block, who returns to New Zealand. With co-driver Alex Gelsomino, Block brings his Monster World Rally Team Ford down-under for the first time.
Adding a much-needed boost to the manufacturer line-up are three Minis. The WRC Team Mini Portugal brings two Mini John Cooper Works WRC cars to New Zealand for two-time PWRC champ Armindo Araujo with co-driver Miguel Ramalho, both from Portugal, and the Brazilian pairing of Paulo Nobre and Edu Paula.
The Prodrive WRC Team also heads down-under this year, bringing Spain's Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio to compete in another Mini John Cooper Works WRC rally car.
Kiwi fans also get to watch the rising stars of world rallying in action on our world-famous roads as the Super 2000 and Production World Rally Championship fields compete in Brother Rally New Zealand.
Sure to be the centre of local attention are New Zealand's own world rally champions Hayden Paddon and John Kennard. The Kiwi duo is fighting for the lead of the SWRC with home advantage in the five-strong SWRC field. The Proton crews which contested Brother International Rally of Whangarei in April are back with Per-Gunnar Andersson and Emil Axelsson, from Sweden, joining team-mates Alister McRae, from the UK, and Bill Hayes, from Australia, in their S2000-spec Proton Satria Neo rally cars.
Two Ford Fiesta S2000 crews have also entered the New Zealand event. The Polish pair Maciej Oleksowicz and Andrzej Obrebowski in their privately-entered Ford is joined by Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and his British co-driver Michael Orr.
The production car field sees three Subaru crews – Argentineans Marcos Ligato and Ruben Garcia, and two Italian pairings Lorenzo Bertelli and Lorenzo Granai, and Gianluca Linari and Nicola Arena. British driver Louise Cook with co-driver Stefan Davis pilot the only production-spec Ford Fiesta ST, while there are five PWRC competitors using Mitsubishi Lancer EVO models.
These are: Valeriy Gorban and Andrii Nikolaiev, Oleksii Kikireshko and Pavlo Cherepin, all from Ukraine; Mexican Ricardo Trivino with Spanish co-driver Alex Haro Bravo; another female crew Ramona Karlsson and Miriam Walfridsson, from Sweden; and Indonesian driver Subhan Aksa with his Kiwi co-driver Jeff Judd.
A further 16 competitors complete the 44-strong entry list, including the NZRC field and those not registered for a specific championship, but simply enjoying the opportunity to compete on some of the world's best roads for rallying.
A free rally family day at Auckland's Viaduct Events Centre on Sunday 17 June marks the first time that Kiwi rally fans can meet their favourite drivers. Competitors then complete their reconnaissance of the rally route for two-and-a-half days before the event officially gets underway at a ticketed welcome function on Thursday 21 June. A new MotorExpo and FanZone will operate inside rally headquarters at the Viaduct Events Centre; entry is free and alongside great vehicle displays and interactive entertainment, fans can watch the only big screen television showing live rally footage from out on the course.
Numerous prime and other spectator viewing areas offer excellent opportunities to watch the high speed action in person across all three days of the event, Friday 22 June to Sunday 24 June. Sunday's action includes the free-for-everyone Auckland Domain super special stage before the ceremonial finish at 3:30pm near the Viaduct Events Centre on Auckland's waterfront.
Detailed spectator and ticket information and current news is available on the event website www.rallynz.org.nz