The new April date for Propecia Rally New Zealand, the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, is proving a fillip for the small central North Island town of Taihape.

The 33rd Rally New Zealand, which is based around the Auckland region, was moved by the FIA from the end of the season in October to the 9-13 April.

That's left this weekend's traditional season-opening rally in Taihape with an unexpected interest from New Zealand's leading rally drivers as the only lead-up event before next month's world championship event.

Normally the Taihape event draws a mostly regional entry of Group N production cars, but this weekend will see New Zealand's top-10 ranked competitors lining up as a shakedown for the Propecia Rally New Zealand.

They include the current New Zealand Champion Bruce Herbert (Palmerston North), Propecia young driver scholarship winner Richard Mason (Masterton), plus top competitors Glenn Smith (Taranaki), and Aucklanders Todd Bawden, Andrew Hawkeswood and Mark Tapper.

Some have ventured from the South Island to test themselves in the one-day event in Taihape including Timaru's Chris West and Dunedin's Emma Gilmour, the only female in this year's Propecia Rally New Zealand.

The only major Kiwi driver not entered is Manawatu's Geof Argyle, although he will get some practise driving the Zero Car, used to run through each stage ahead of the field to ensure each special stage is in place.

The event on Saturday, which doubles as the first round of the central region rally series, includes 10 special stages over 135kms and has attracted 104 entries.

Competitors will get to fire up their cars for the first time in preparation for next month - although there's one special stage that won't have much bearing on next month's world championship event. All drivers and co-drivers must complete a statutory gumboot throw midway through the rally, with the small rural township known as the gumboot throwing capital of the world.

Propecia Rally New Zealand will start with a Rally Show and Ceremonial Start in Auckland City on Thursday 10 April, with the first two days of racing in the Kaipara region in Northland and the Manukau Super Special Stage to be held on the evening of Saturday 12 April. The final day of racing is based on roads in the Waikato region at Te Akau and Maramarua Forest. The event concludes on Sunday 13 April in Manukau City.