BEN HUNT WILL TAKE A LOT OF CATCHING, SAYS COLIN SMITH
The penultimate round of the New Zealand Rally Championship will bring gravel action back to the Coromandel Peninsula this month.
There’s a familiar format for the Mahindra Goldrush Rally of Coromandel on Saturday, August 22. The nine-stage route and time schedule is almost identical to last year’s event, when national rallying returned to the demanding roads of the peninsula for the first time since the mid-1980s.
Tarsealing work means a slight shortening of the second special stage, which runs across The 309 Rd, to trim the event’s total competitive distance to 132.31km.
New Zealand rally championship leader Ben Hunt (right) and co-driver Tony Rawstorn. PHOTO GEOFF RIDDER
The Mercury Bay Multi Sport Park at Whitianga’s Moewai Park will again host the headquarters and service park for the rally, which will start at 7am. The opening action is the 11.10km Ernslaw forestry stage, which starts just outside of Whitianga at 7.07am and heads northwest to finish near Te Rerenga.
Crews then return to Whitianga via the 13.47km 309 Rd special stage, which heads east across the peninsula, starting at 7.43am.
Following the first visit to the service park at 8.17am the rally then tackles two loops of the Tapu-Coroglen Rd (22.98km) and the Castle Rock (24.17km) stage, which uses a tricky section of forestry road before joining The 309 Rd.
Tapu-Coroglen 1 starts at 8.55am and the Castle Rock 1 stage at 10.15am. The second service halt is at 11am with Tapu-Coroglen 2 starting at 11.38am and Castle Rock 2 at 12.58pm before returning to service at 1.33pm.At that point, with six stages completed, less than 15km of competition will remain.
Crews tackle the 1.17km tarmac Whitianga Super Special stage at Joan Gaskell Drive for the first time at 2.08pm, then repeat the Ernslaw stage at 2.30pm and make a second run around the super stage at 3.20pm and the ceremonial finish at Joan Gaskell Drive at 3.56pm.
The rally is the fifth round of the championship and is also part of a shortened Top Half northern region series, which has only four rallies.
Top contenders for the Coromandel event are expected to be national championship leader Ben Hunt (Auckland) who has claimed maximum points on three out of four events this year in his Subaru Impreza.
Hunt leads the series by a commanding 42 points from Tauranga’s Phil Campbell, but the series allows competitors to drop their worst score from the six rounds and Campbell posted a retirement at the Gisborne event in June when his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9 was halted by a differential failure.
Campbell took national championship honours at Coromandel last year but was beaten for the outright win by non-championship driver Geof Argyle (Feilding).
At the top end of the field the depth of competition is expected to be boosted by two drivers missing from recent rounds. Coromandel local favourite Alex Kelsey returns with his self-built Renault V6 mid-engined Kelsey MC2 and Mt Maunganui’s David Holder, who led the first day of championship competition at Rally Whangarei in April before crashing, is expected to resume his campaign.
Holder’s team has rebuilt the ex-Hayden Paddon Mitsubishi Lancer Evo8 and completed a shakedown run at the Tauranga Clubmans Rally finishing second behind Phil Campbell. The final round of the national championship is Trusthouse Racetech Rally Wairarapa on October 3.