AP4 cars split Rallying have and have nots
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The AP4 explosion in New Zealand rallying has created a haves and have nots split at the pointy end of the field.
Although there isn't much separating the new style AP4 car and the older model of cars in the New Zealand Rally Championship, it is expected the advantage of the new cars will grow quickly as drivers and teams get more familiar with them.
Ten new generation cars featured at International Rally of Whangarei a fortnight ago - David Holder (who has now finished his two-rally programme) in the Hyundai New Zealand i20, Andrew Hawkeswood and Rhys Gardner (both Mazda), Holden Barinas driven by Josh Martson and Greg Murphy, Emma Gilmour's Suzuki, a Skoda driven by Glenn Inkster, Carl Davies' Toyota, the Mitsubishi of Brian Green and Dylan Turner in his Audi S1.
Three more cars are under construction with Shannon Chambers to debut another Toyota while Phil Campbell and Brian Stokes will unleash Ford Fiestas during the season.
The four wheel drive turbo-powered cars look and sound like those in the World Rally Championship and are helping bring spectators back to the sport.
Andrew Hawkeswood finished runner-up driving his Mazda2 AP4 contender. Photo / Greg Henderson
The problem, however, is that many drivers in the championship don't have access to one of these cars and shortly it will have a major impact on success.
Some of the most talented young drivers such as reigning series champ Holder, Matt Summerfield, Sloan Cox, Ben Hunt, Darren Galbraith, Job Quantock and current championship leader Graham Featherstone have no plans to move to an AP4 car and would struggle to find the necessary budget.
The cars, while cheap by WRC comparison, are still worth in the vicinity of $250,000-$300,000 and then there is the cost to run them.
For someone like 25-year-old Summerfield, who won the New Zealand Rally Championship event in Whangarei, it is just not an option.
Matt and Nicole Summerfield in their Subaru. Photo Geoff Ridder
"We couldn't afford the cost of building one like a lot of the younger guys in the top level - we simply don't have the funds to go down that road," Summerfield said.
"I would love someone to give me a call and say they are going to build a car but there are a few of us young guys hoping for that at the moment."
Summerfield's best chance is that a manufacturer or owner decides to build an AP4 car and then looks to find a talented driver to pedal it.
"It is one of those things that it could turn up tomorrow," Summerfield said. "It is an unknown. There is a lot of talk about the cars and a lot of talk about people putting cars together."
Only the Hyundai New Zealand i20 has been built by a manufacturer and that has been done in conjunction with WRC star Hayden Paddon's own team Paddon RallySport.
David Holder drove a new generation Hyundai New Zealand i20. Photo / Greg Henderson
The other AP4 cars have been built by drivers who have managed to assemble the funds required.
Summerfield thinks there are other manufacturers who will see the success of the category and the presence of rival brands and feel the need to join in as well. "I think it's coming," he said.
"I'm not sure if it is going to be this year but I think with the profile of rallying in New Zealand gaining so much momentum that will come. The AP4 car - the market of the car and the shape and size of the car - is what is getting sold most commonly in New Zealand these days so that is a big plus going forward in trying to entice these manufacturers into putting major support into rallying."
Hunt, the 2015 champion, chose to go down a different route to the AP4 cars.
He bucked the trend and opted for a new Subaru WRX STi last year.
The next round of the championship is the Lone Star Canterbury Rally over Queen's Birthday Weekend.