100 days to go, international rally rivalry heats

The Sunshine Coast is set to host a red-hot showdown between the Asia Pacific’s top rally teams following news that two new world-level cars from Europe will contest the International Rally of Queensland (IROQ) in May.
As the countdown to the rally on 25-27 May reached 100 days today, the Indian MRF Team confirmed from Chennai it would contest IROQ and the 2012 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) with two Skoda Fabia S2000 cars for Indian champion Guarav Gill and a driver yet to be named.
The Skodas are among the world’s fastest, purpose-built rally weapons and will bring a new level of excitement to the Sunshine Coast event.
They are the same specification as the factory-backed Malaysia Proton Satria that dominated last year’s APRC and the Super 2000 category at last weekend’s Swedish round of the World Rally Championship.
The “Indian” Skodas and British-run Protons of current APRC champion Alister McRae of Scotland and Sweden’s Per-Gunnar Andersson promise IROQ spectators will see a world-class contest, says Event Director Errol Bailey.
“MRF and Proton have really upped the stakes by employing the most sophisticated cars and world-renowned drivers – and Proton this year has the benefit of also competing in the World Rally Championship – but they will be far from the only contenders when the teams take to the special competition stages at Caloundra and in the Imbil forests,” Mr Bailey said.
“Last year’s event was won by British driver Mark Higgins in a Japanese Mitsubishi run by a Chinese team, so anything can happen in the fast and challenging conditions we offer here. We will again have the best competitors from Malaysia, India, China, Japan, Indonesia, New Zealand and New Caledonia as well as Australia for everyone to see in action on the Sunshine Coast.
“The APRC component in Queensland will be complemented by our most exciting round of the Bosch Australian Rally Championship (BARC) in many years. Spectators will see the new market-relevant two-wheel drive, SUV and Side-by-Side categories and the latest cars from Honda, Mazda and Subaru, among others – I expect this will be the best national round in our history of more than 40 years.”
Mr Bailey welcomed the MRF Team’s commitment to winning back the championship it held in 2003, 2005 and 2010.
“As Australia’s only annual international rally, IROQ is part of a very important regional championship that also includes Japan, China, Malaysia, New Zealand and New Caledonia and it means a lot to teams, drivers and sponsors to win it.
“The importance to the rally organisers and the Sunshine Coast is that teams such as MRF not only travel with substantial entourages but also contribute enormous media coverage in their countries. For instance, MRF always brings TV crews plus reporters from India’s most prestigious newspapers, whose daily reports from Caloundra reach an audience numbering many, many millions.
“Other media accompany their national teams from China, Malaysia, Japan and New Zealand and deliver similar coverage. We hope CCTV-5, part of China’s biggest network, will be on the coast again in May experiencing not only a great sports event but also the many tourist attractions.
“In addition, the rally will have dedicated TV feature coverage throughout Australia and 118 other countries – priceless exposure for the Sunshine Coast.”
MRF Principal Tony Rodricks said the smaller, lighter and purpose-built Skodas would be more competitive than the production-based Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution cars the team had run for the past 10 seasons.
“The fact that the Skoda has won the SWRC (Super 2000) and International Rally Challenge championships last year will put enormous pressure on the Proton development team, as the car has not fared well in the European circuits,” Mr Rodricks said.
The International Rally of Queensland will be headquartered at Rydges Oasis Resort at Caloundra, with a remote base at Imbil in the Mary Valley and stopovers at other locations including Kenilworth.
Testing, practice, course reconnaissance, technical scrutiny, logistics, media appearances, recreational and social activities will see top teams on the Sunshine Coast for at least a week.
The full timetable and program of public activities will be announced in the coming weeks.