NZ Rally Championship: Gisborne outcome key to title
A close-fought 2016 New Zealand Rally Championship that has already produced three different winners from the first three events heads to its penultimate event this Saturday.
The one-day Rally of Gisborne involves the country’s best rally drivers returning to the Tiniroto region to compete on the remote and demanding gravel roads regularly used as part of WRC Rally of New Zealand in the 1990s.
Gisborne regained a place on the NZRC calendar last year with an event based around the Motu and Whakarau stages which saw Ben Hunt take a convincing win.
This year’s event moves to the west and southwest of Gisborne and duplicates only one stage of last year’s event among its six stages and 150.4km of competitive driving.
Mt Maunganui’s David Holder (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo8) leads the championship after three rounds. Holder has 64 points despite rolling out of the Canterbury event earlier this month.
Emma Gilmour on her way to victory in the Rally of Canterbury (below). Picture / Geoff Ridder
Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour has built the momentum of her title bid since retiring from the Otago season opener.
A strong points scoring finish at Whangarei followed up by a breakthrough victory in Canterbury has earned 58 points for Gilmour. She’s followed by WRC star Hayden Paddon who has 51 points after his Otago and Whangarei appearances.
Mazda drivers are next with Kaiapoi’s Marcus van Klink on 49 points with his Historic class Group B RX7 while Andrew Hawkeswood (Auckland) has 46 points as his new AP4 class Mazda2 becomes a more competitive force.
Rotorua’s Sloan Cox (Mitsubishi Lancer EvoX), Christchurch driver Richard Baddock (Subaru Impreza) and Te Aroha’s Graham Featherstone (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo7) each have 36 points and defending champion Hunt (Auckland) is next with 33 points.
The rally starts at 7am from Read’s Quay in downtown Gisborne with the first pair of stages being Parikanapa (7.38am start) and Ruakaka (8.26am start) before the first of three visits to the service park at Saleyards Rd near Patutahi just outside Gisborne.
Ben Hunt, who could be back in contention for the rally championship after this weekend's Gisborne round.
There’s a second run through the Parikanapa stage (10.08am start) and a second service halt before a 59km touring stage on State Highway 2 that sends crews to the Wharekopae (1pm start) and Pehiri (2.13pm start) stages.
After the third service the final stage is a repeat run through the Pehiri stage (4.35pm start) with the crews returning to Reads Quay for the finish ceremony at 5.55pm.
The outcome of the Gisborne event is likely to have a key role in deciding the title race. The championship regulations allow competitors to count their best three scores from the first four rallies and then carry the adjusted total forward into the final event based at Whitianga on August 30.
For Holder, Gilmour and Hawkeswood there are no points to be dropped as each already has a non-finish — but van Klink has three scores on the board.
The rule could put Hunt back into contention if he can find winning form this weekend in his new Subaru WRX STI NR4.