APRC Rally of Whangarei
This was the first round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship, and also round one of the New Zealand Rally Championship. One of the classes of the NZ Rally Championship is the Historic Championship — and included within this class are a few rally classics, such as Marcus Van Klink’s Mazda RX-7 and Brian Stokes’ Ford Escort, to name just two.
Having arrived in Whangarei on Friday afternoon, I promptly checked into the 1900-themed Grand Hotel. I’d already made a quick visit to the accreditation office before making my way to Pohe Island, where the cars were gathered, to take a few quick snaps and check out the Ford Fiesta of international rally driver Ken Block — who is in New Zealand to contest two rounds of the NZ Rally Championship. The ceremonial start was next on the list, with Mayor Sheryl Mai opening the event, and all 48 cars driving over the start ramp. At this time I should note that, unfortunately, Rob and Sarah Mason were forced to pull out of the event at the last minute, as a sponsorship deal fell through.
The two special stages SS1 and SS2 Pohe Island began under floodlights once the ceremonial proceedings had finished. Starting in reverse order, the first car to navigate the 1.25km course was the Suzuki Swift of Jack and Brenda Williamson. Although most drivers ran to the limit, times did not mean much at this early stage.
After a very broken sleep (there was a karaoke bar below me, and street lights outside my window) I was up at 6:45am — my alarm clock being the noise of rally cars driving past.
Saturday’s racing was focused 30 minutes north of Whangarei and encompassed three special stages, each being run in the morning, then again in the afternoon. Mixed weather conditions made for challenging driving at times, while some drivers experienced mechanical problems — not to mention the odd spot of barrel-rolling by various cars. At the end of leg one, Marcus Van Klink and Daniel Neill in their Mazda RX-7 were the fastest of the Historic Challenge cars, and 13th overall in the NZRC. Brian and Anne Stokes had a mixed day in their Escort due to mechanical problems.
The second and final day saw the rally move south of Whangarei. As per day one, the three morning stages were run again in the afternoon before heading back to Whangarei for the prize-giving.
Marcus Van Klink once again led the way in the Historic Class, fending off Andy Martin and Matt Hayward in a Mazda RX-3, thus making him the winner of the Historic Challenge for the weekend. Brian Stokes once again ran into mechanical issues on stage 14, and this time they ended his rally.
Of the National Rally Championship, the overall winner was the popular and entertaining Ken Block / Alex Gelsomino duo in a Ford Fiesta, followed by Ben Hunt / Tony Rawstorn in a Subaru Impreza in second place. Third place was awarded to Matt and Nicole Summerfield, also in a Subaru Impreza.