Local support in Northland has been a driving force behind the preparation of this year’s seventh International Rally of Whangarei, held in association with the Brian Green Property Group from 17 to 19 May.
The opening round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship and second round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship, features competitors from Finland, France, India, Japan, Australia and New Zealand driving a variety of cars from late model to early era Skoda, Toyota, Subaru, Mitsubishi and Ford marques.
Previously dominated by New Zealand's best including three-time winner and 2011 Production World Rally Champion Hayden Paddon, his return for 2013 will bring tough competition to the international line-up that includes two Super2000 specification Skoda Fabia cars.
Teams compete to set fastest time across the 16 special stages totalling 288.16km, traversing rural roads through the Kaipara and Whangarei districts.
"From the Cameron St mall, use of the Quayside Town Basin carpark and buildings to Pohe Island the rally organisers in association with the Whangarei District Council work to ensure the continual success of the event," says chairman of the organising board Laurie Brenssell.
"The economic benefits of bringing several thousand visitors to the region for not just the weekend but pre-event activities in the week prior have generated a win-win in past years. Our offshore participants are wooed by more than the regions stunning scenery. The challenge of the regions roads and how it appears on television to the millions who see it worldwide puts more than New Zealand on the map – it's Whangarei that's in the spotlight. That keeps bringing them to our event and their spend to the Whangarei economy – across a number of sectors."
The only international championship rally event being held in New Zealand for 2013 will be shown in more than 430 million households worldwide as part of the event's television coverage. Brenssell says the event organising office, Rally of New Zealand, constantly receives feedback from those who intend on making New Zealand a destination based on what they've seen on television.
"Each year we host media representatives from many of the competitors' home countries, and this year we've even got a Swiss contingent who will be absorbing our culture and hospitality," adds Brenssell.
"It's those sorts of people who are lured by the event to spend time in Whangarei and be part of the experience. The council have long recognised working together keeps that tourism flame alive and helps spread the Whangarei message to a very broad audience."
"Local community contacts such as Kapa Haka group Te Puu Ao and Kamo Scouts brings real colour to the event and to what is experienced by its participants and spectators. We're additionally grateful for their efforts that have resulted in a better show – particularly at Friday's ceremonial start."
Assisted too by tertiary education institute NorthTec they make available more than just students to assist with organisation and running of the event.
"From the automotive trades that are used by visiting teams in preparing their cars for the New Zealand conditions to language students who assist with translation and welcoming of our foreign visitors, the event has brought new horizons to many," continues Brenssell.
"Each year NorthTec make available their facilities for the international teams to store their shipping containers during pre-event preparation. They also encourage their students to get involved with the behind-the-scenes preparations. It exposes students to new opportunities and varying cultures as well as providing hands-on learning outside the classroom."
Although the competitive tests take place on the Saturday and Sunday, teams begin arriving on the Monday – particularly from offshore, as they take time to acclimatise.
Activity builds during the week as each car and crew complete documentation processes before shakedown testing early Friday morning at William Fraser Memorial Park on Pohe Island. That is followed by a car parade through the streets of Whangarei just after noon and an autograph session at the Cameron St mall from 3:30pm. The ceremonial start begins at 4:30pm at the mall 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 brand new 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 www.rallywhangarei.co.nz, 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 www.rallywhangarei.co.nz website, or follow the event on Facebook.