New Zealand Rally Championship returns to Gisborne
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ONE OF THE GREATEST STAGES WILL STAR IN RALLY GISBORNE, WRITES COLIN SMITH
After a weekend in the north and two more in the south, the New Zealand Rally Championship is heading east for round four on Saturday.
Rally Gisborne will see competitors tackle four long and demanding gravel stages that have all featured prominently in the history of Kiwi rallying.
The big news for the event is the return of the infamous Motu Gorge Rd to the domestic rally scene and potentially the first 2015 appearance of current, and five-time, national champion Richard Mason.
Masterton-based Mason has been absent from the first three rounds due to a lack of sponsorship but he hopes to run a couple of events in coming months including his Rally Wairarapa home event in September.
Earlier this week, Mason said his chances of making the Gisborne start line were about 50:50.
“I’m hoping we make it to Gisborne as we’ve already had to pull out of one rally this year.
“We go rallying because we enjoy it. This year we are short of sponsorship to do it a high level but the plan is do a couple of rallies on our own resources.”
The car Mason is preparing is his 2005 title-winning Subaru Impreza.
“It hasn’t been used for five years but it’s had a major rebuild.
“Last year’s car [a later model Impreza] is ready to go — either for us if we secure sponsorship to run at a high level or ready to be sold if somebody wants a top car.”
Reigning champion Richard Mason and co-driver Sara Mason.
Crews start Saturday’s six-stage event with the 24.8km Rakauroa stage near Matawai — starting at 8.36am — before touring through the Waioeka Gorge to Opotiki and the start of the 46.8km Motu stage at 11.28am.
The mainly downhill and more flowing Whakarau stage (32km), starting at 1.15pm, is another challenging classic with a rich world championship and Asia-Pacific championship heritage.
The final long gravel stage is Wharekopae (38.9km), starting at 3.01pm, before it is back to Gisborne for two tarmac blasts over 2.2km Kaiti Hill stage.
The entry list is headed by Ben Hunt (Auckland) in his Subaru Impreza and Tauranga’s Phil Campbell (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9).
Hunt leads the title chase with 96 points from Campbell with 84 and the battle for third is between two drivers from Te Aroha — Graham Featherstone (Mitsubishi) with 56 points and teenager Lance Williams (Subaru) on 46.
Also likely to figure among the pacesetters are Rangiora’s Matt Summerfield (Subaru), Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour (Suzuki Swift Maxi) and Aucklanders Andrew Hawkeswood (Mazda2 Maxi) and Dylan Turner (Mitsubishi).
Following the Gisborne event there will be only two rounds of the championship to go.