The world governing body of motorsport, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, or FIA, has confirmed that the NAC Insurance International Rally of Whangarei will again be an Asia Pacific qualifying round in the global 2009 Pirelli Star Driver competition
New Zealander Mark Tapper was the inaugural winner of the Asia Pacific Pirelli Star Driver title in 2008 and the 28-year-old has recently completed his first World Rally Championship (WRC) event as one of the five fully-funded Pirelli Star Drivers selected from different regions around the world.
Tapper’s prize – a fully-paid drive in six WRC events in a brand-new Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X – is worth more than $1 million and provides an opportunity like no other for a New Zealand driver to gain the attention of the world’s rally elite.
“Tapper’s path to becoming a Pirelli Star Driver started in Whangarei in June last year,” explains event organising committee chairman Willard Martin.
“The 2008 NAC Insurance Hella International Rally of Whangarei was the first qualifying Pirelli Star Driver event run in this part of the world and saw current New Zealand rally champion Hayden Paddon, from Geraldine, and Taranaki driver Brad Ayling score the most points to ensure they could compete in the Asia Pacific final in Malaysia.”
The rules are different this year – last year Tapper was able to compete in the Asia Pacific final in Malaysia where he won the inaugural Pirelli Star Driver title for this region.
“This year, drivers must be either one of the two top qualifiers in Whangarei or selected as the a wildcard entry by the APRC executive in order to compete in the Pirelli Star Driver final being run in conjunction with Repco Rally Australia in September. This makes doing well in the Whangarei event even more vital for competitors,” explains Martin.
Paddon and Rotorua’s Sloan Cox have already registered for the Pirelli qualifier in Whangarei.
“With a Kiwi having won this extremely significant competition in its first year, many young New Zealand rally drivers can see the huge potential this competition can make to the prospect of them forging a career as a paid professional rally driver,” adds Martin. “There is no cost to register. To be eligible to enter, drivers must be aged 27 years or less on 1 January 2009 and drive a suitable Group N production-class rally car.”
The ultimate prize is again a six-event WRC campaign, with the Asia Pacific winner joining young drivers from Europe, Africa and the Middle East as the 2010 Pirelli Star Drivers.
“Just as it was for Mark, if one of our drivers wins this year’s Asia Pacific Pirelli Star Driver title, it will be rallying in New Zealand one year and the next competing in WRC events in places like Portugal, Finland and Italy. For virtually every young rally driver in New Zealand, this is very much a dream come true,” says Martin.
“It’s tremendously significant for the NAC Insurance International Rally of Whangarei to again be included in this global rally competition. Not only will competitors and media from around the Asia Pacific watch the event closely, assessing the strength of the Kiwis who top the points’ table here and the likelihood of another New Zealander winning the Asia Pacific Pirelli title for a second year. But also the European rally media, in particular, are following Mark Tapper’s progress and therefore the progress of any Kiwi rally drivers likely to follow him offshore. The eyes of the world’s rallying elite will most definitely be focused on Whangarei in June and we look forward to running a professional and exciting event to ensure our young rally drivers have the best possible opportunity to take their next step towards becoming a Pirelli Star Driver in 2010.”