Alister McRae heads south for New Zealand Rally Championship
Apr 04, 2007
Rally driver Alister McRae is heading as far from his native Scotland as is possible for the next round of his professional rally driving career, as he enters the new Zealand Rally Championship with the Proflex Motorsport team. He travels to Dunedin on the South Island this week to prepare for the opening round of the championship, the Otago Rally.
McRae’s participation in the six-round NZRC has come about as a result of his longstanding relationship with the suspension manufacturer Proflex, which began in the 1990s. It continues to this day, through his work as development driver for the RED/Toyota South Africa Super 2000 project. The activity is designed to raise the profile of the suspension component manufacturer and specialist in NZ and the program will be run by a team set up specifically for the championship.
The aim is to contest the full 2007 championship, which includes the Rally of New Zealand, the country’s round of the FIA World Rally Championship, which McRae has contested as works driver for both Hyundai and Mitsubishi. Indeed, it was with Hyundai where his relationship with Proflex reached the world stage, as the manufacturer was selected by the team for work on both the F2 and World Rally Car projects.
The team is currently finalising the budget for the full season, which should see McRae in a latest-specification Group N Subaru Impreza but he will start the first round, the Otago Rally, in an N10-specification Impreza.
“I’m delighted to have been approached by the Proflex Motorsport team to compete in New Zealand,” said McRae. “I’ve worked with the brand for years, including still on the Toyota and on the Group N Subaru which we used in the 2004 FIA Production car World Rally Championship. I’ve always been extremely impressed with not only the products themselves but the support and expertise which go with them. Proflex always works very closely with the team to develop the right products for the particular application and then get the most from them, so I’m sure this will be a successful programme.”
The first round of the event is based in Dunedin in the south island and is a two-day event, including a superspecial stage run in the town centre. However, unlike WRC events, the one-day recce only allows a single pass of the stages prior to the start of the rally. While this will make things slightly more difficult for McRae, he is still relishing the challenge. “I’m really looking forward to getting back in a rally car for a high level event,” he said. “This will be my first time in a group N car for around a year – I did the Pirelli Rally in the British Rally Championship this time last year and am looking forward to it. Of course, I did the Wales Rally GB in the Toyota but Group N requires a very different driving style but one which is extremely enjoyable on the New Zealand stages.
“I think only having one pass over the stages on the recce may mean that some of the local guys have a bit more experience but I’m hoping it won’t put us at too much of a disadvantage. We’ll start with a set of ‘Jemba’ computer-generated notes provided by the organisers and refine those on the recce and do the best we can against the local guys, who are always quick.”
The McRae name is not new to the rally, as Alister’s father Jimmy competed on the last two events, in the classic category, winning in 2005. Alister is the top-seeded non-New Zealand driver, at No. 5 with Antipodean regular Richard Mason heading the entry list. However, another new name to the championship is Ken Block, who competes in the US Rally Championship and is driving in NZ to gain experience.
The event begins at 08.00 in the morning of Saturday 14 April and comprises seven gravel stages before the superspecial stage in the centre of Dunedin town. There are then a further seven stages on Sunday 15 April before the finish at 14.00. New Zealand is GMT +12hrs.
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