PHIL CAMPBELL THE ONLY DRIVER WITH A CHANCE TO OVERHAUL LEADER, WRITES COLIN SMITH
The fine print in the regulations has kept the New Zealand Rally Championship battle alive going into the early October finale in the Manawatu and Wairarapa.
Series leader Ben Hunt (Auckland) and co-driver Tony Rawstorn (Nelson) produced another front-running drive to win the Mahindra Goldrush Rally of Coromandel on Saturday, their fourth victory from five starts this year.
Hunt (in a Subaru Impreza) was fastest on five of the opening six stages on the demanding 309 Road, Castle Rock and Tapu-Coroglen gravel to open up an almost half-minute lead over his nearest title rival, Tauranga’s Phil Campbell (driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9).
In the final three stages Hunt stretched that lead to a margin of 37.8s while a late-rally charge from Mt Maunganui’s David Holder (Lancer Evo 8) put pressure on Campbell and saw a slim 6.1 margin decide the podium places. Holder was returning to the championship after crashing out of the Whangarei opener in April. Further back, Subaru Impreza drivers Matt Summerfield (Rangiora) and Lance Williams (Te Aroha) completed the top five and Timaru’s Darren Galbraith, in his older Challenge Class Lancer Evo 6, finished sixth.
Some fast stage times were produced by local Coromandel favourite Alex Kelsey in his self-built Peugeot-bodied Kelsey MC2, Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour (Suzuki Swift Maxi), Rotorua’s Sloan Cox (Lancer Evo 10) and Hamilton’s Todd Bawden (Lancer Evo6), but all experienced delays that pushed them down the finish order. Bawden — a former rally winner at national championship level who has just returned to the sport after a nine-year break — finished in seventh while Cox was 14th, Kelsey 32nd and Gilmour 36th among the 37 finishers from 56 starters.
The new Volkswagen Polo of Auckland’s Shannon Chambers made a promising debut and climbed to seventh place but was sidelined by an engine problem at the start of stage seven.
Phil Campbell is giving leader Ben Hunt a run for his money.
The Coromandel win builds Hunt’s tally for the season to 130 points.
That is a net score which includes four wins with a strong haul of Power Stage bonuses and discards his Rally Otago result — where he was delayed by punctures. Drivers count their best four results from the first five rallies and carry that score forward to the Manawatu-Wairarapa finale on October 3.
That leaves Campbell trailing by 24 points and the only driver with a chance to overhaul Hunt’s total. A win is worth 25 points with up to five bonus points to be gained from fastest time in the Power Stage.
Williams is third in the championship chase on 88 points with Summerfield on 84 and Te Aroha’s Graham Featherstone (Lancer Evo 7) with 73. Canterbury’s Marcus van Klink — who had held fifth overall in the championship in his Historic Class Mazda RX-7 Group B car — retired from the Coromandel event.
The final on October 3 combines stages from the Manawatu Daybreaker Rally and Rally Wairarapa with the start at Pohangina and eight stages before the finish at Masterton.