Podium rush on the gravel roads of the Coromandel peninsula
PROMISE OF TIGHT CONTEST FOR PLACES ON GRAVEL OF COROMANDEL
New Zealand Rally Championship runner-up honours are set to be keenly fought at the Mahindra Goldrush Rally of Coromandel on Saturday.
Mt Maunganui’s David Holder put the 2016 national title beyond the reach of his rivals by driving his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo8 to victory at the penultimate round at Gisborne last month.
With the title safely secure, the newly crowned champion will lead a 74-strong field away from Whitianga start on Saturday morning.
Trailing Holder’s 94-point tally on the leaderboard is a logjam of crews and the promise of some split-second competition on the Coromandel gravel in search for the runner-up honours.
David Holder (Mt Maunganui) holds an unassailable lead but there is plenty of interest in the fight for podium honours. Picture / Geoff Ridder
Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour (Suzuki Swift) holds second place with 58 points and the queue behind her is headed by Te Aroha’s Graham Featherstone (Mitsubishi) on 56 points and Rotorua’s Sloan Cox (Mitsubishi) on 54.
Hayden Paddon’s early-season efforts with his Hyundai i20 AP4 car remain good enough for fifth in the standings on 51 points but the Kiwi star is on WRC duty in Germany this weekend.
Aucklander Andrew Hawkeswood (Mazda2) has 50 points ahead of Kaiapoi’s Historic Championship winner Marcus van Klink (Mazda RX7) on 49 and Aucklander Dylan Turner (Mitsubishi) with 47 points.
With up to 30 points available on Saturday it remains mathematically possible for 2015 champion – and last year’s Coromandel winner — Ben Hunt (Auckland) to vault from 12th place in the championship to the runner-up honours.
There are a couple of close title fights to be decided on Saturday. In the Junior category (under 25) Te Aroha’s Lance Williams (Subaru) holds just a single point edge over Sloan Cox.
And in the National 2WD category veteran Dave Strong (Honda Civic Type R) is seeking another national class title with a 11 point advantage over Cambridge driver Anthony Jones (Ford Escort).
Among the other notable entries are former national champions Neil Allport (Ford Escort RS1600) and Bruce Herbert (Ford Escort Mk2).
And the rally has attracted international interest with Australian Brendan Reeves set to drive the previous generation Mazda2 from the Force Motorsport stable as team-mate to Andrew Hawkeswood in the latest generation car.
Mazda2 campaigner Andrew Hawkeswood is sixth in the championship standings.
And New Caledonian drivers Eugene Creugnet (Subaru) and Patrick Christian (Mitsubishi) along with Australian Bruce Fullerton (Mitsubishi Starion) add to the international flavour.
The rally starts at 7.30am from the Mercury Bay Multi-Sports Park and the first stage is Ernslaw North — an 11.1km combination of forest and public roads just southeast of Whitianga, which starts at 7.43am.
The second stage, new this year, has a tour north on the peninsula for the 16.25km Port Charles stage, which races through Waikawau and finishes and Whangaahei.
After a run through the 11.41km 309 Road stage, the crews return to the first regroup and service at Whitianga at 10.14am.
The rally then makes a loop of the peninsula with the 22.98km Coroglen-Tapu Rd running west and then east again on the 309 Rd stage.
The second visit to the service park is at 12.27pm and the crews then repeat Coroglen-Tapu and a third run through the 309 Road before service at 2.50pm.
The final loop starts with the 1.05km tarmac publicity stage at Joan Gaskell Drive, a run through the Ernslaw South stage — in the opposite direction to the morning — and the final stage is a second sprint through the spectator stage.
The finish ceremony is at 5.05pm in Blacksmith Lane, Whitianga.