DRIVERS representing five countries headline a top-flight entry list for the annual International Rally of Queensland on the Sunshine Coast this weekend.
Hosting rounds of the FIA Asia Pacific, Australian and State Rally Championships, Queensland's only international motorsport event has attracted more than 40 entries to tackle 240 kilometres of challenging forest stages around Imbil, in the Coast's northern hinterland.
The entry list is headed by India's MRF Tyres team, winner of five of the past six events and of every APRC driver and manufacturer title since 2012.
Their factory-backed Skoda Fabia R5 cars - new this year from the Czech Republic - will be driven by 2010 Queensland winner and 2013 champion Gaurav Gill of India and 24-year-old German Fabian Kreim, the latest in a parade of young European hot-shots assigned Down Under to develop their skills.
The field features Australia's fastest gravel drivers, including four-time champion Simon Evans (Subaru), junior star Harry Bates (Toyota), Tom Wilde, Molly Taylor and Brad Marcovich (all Subarus), Mark Pedder (Peugeot) and Queenslander Ryan Smart (Mitsubishi).
Major attractions among Classic-car entrants will be Neal Bates, in a 1980 Toyota Celica RA40, and Mal Keough in a replica of the infamous Group B Audi Quattro S1 world rally car.
Twenty cars are entered for the MRF Tyres Queensland Rally Championship third round.
Pre-event rally headquarters have been moved north from Caloundra to Maroochydore this year, but the weekend competition hub will remain at the Globe Roamer Service Park at Imbil in the Mary Valley, around 50 minutes' drive into the Coast hinterland.
Spectators, competitors and officials staying in Imbil will be hosted at a free community-run street party on Saturday night.
MAROOCHYDORE HOSTS CEREMONIAL START PARTY FRIDAY JUNE 17
AN evening of fast cars and stars and free family fun will flag away the 2016 International Rally of Queensland in spectacular style at Maroochydore on Friday June 17.
The official Ceremonial Start and party will feature up to 50 rally crews from overseas and Australia, rally car displays, autographs and photo sessions, children's rides, market stalls and international food bars.
Plenty of great prizes will be available to win, including a weekend stay at a Mantra Resort, passes to The Ginger Factory, Australia Zoo and Aussie World and free return airport transfers with Con-x-ion to Brisbane or Sunshine Coast Airports.
Organisers have planned a family-friendly event, with something to entertain all ages.
After a colourful Welcome to Country ceremony conducted by Lyndon Davis representing traditional custodians the Gubbi Gubbi people, the highlight of the night presented by radio Sea FM will be the flagging-off of the rally cars, one-by-one across a starting ramp.
Highlights - Ceremonial Start:
• 5pm, Friday 17 June, rally car display • Rotary Park, 37 The Esplanade, Maroochydore
• 5.30pm, Driver autographs
• 6.35pm, Welcome to Country ceremony
• 7pm, First car starts Plus -
• Prizes to be won • Free rally posters • International food bars and drinks • Jumping castle and mini-cars • Rally spectator tickets on sale