DRIVERS START THE SPRINT FOR NEW ZEALAND RALLY SERIES TITLE, WRITES COLIN SMITH
The first two days of a high-speed journey to an unknown destination lie ahead of competitors in the New Zealand Rally Championship this weekend.
Rally Otago kicks off the 2016 title chase, which will also take teams to Whangarei, North Canterbury, Gisborne and Coromandel over the next four months. The sixth and final round has an October 1 date allocated but a venue is still to be confirmed.
The 40th Rally Otago has attracted a record entry and will test crews with a two-day challenge comprising 17 special stages.
From a 6.30am start on Saturday the rally heads to fast gravel roads to the west of Oamaru and works its way back to Dunedin via a Duntroon midway service park and the classic Dansey’s Pass road — the longest stage of the day at 29km.
The last of the Saturday action is the 2.1km tarmac sprint around a downtown Dunedin industrial area to complete 129.9km of competition.
Sunday features a longer 143.5km itinerary with eight stages and a 7am restart. The rally heads to the west of Dunedin with the midway service park at Middlemarch.
The final two stages are Rally Otago favourites — the Waipouri Gorge and Kuri Bush stage, taking the surviving crews to a 3.15pm finish in Dunedin.
Hayden Paddon and his Kiwi-built Hyundai. Photo / Geoff Ridder.
The late confirmation of Kiwi WRC star Hayden Paddon in a newly completed Hyundai i20 built to AP4 regulations has greatly boosted interest in the event.
Paddon’s Kiwi-built Hyundai is one of several new cars making a debut in Otago, with defending champion Ben Hunt (Auckland) set to campaign a new NR4-spec Subaru Impreza WRX.
New AP4 spec Mazda2 and Skoda Fabia cars will be campaigned by Aucklanders Andrew Hawkeswood and Glenn Inkster while veteran Brian Green (Palmerston North) drives the new Mitsubishi Mirage Evo that appeared in late-2015 events.
The new cars at the top of the seeding list bring greater brand variety than has been the case in Kiwi rallying in recent years.
The Suzuki Swift Maxi of Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour and a trio of Bay of Plenty Mitsubishi Lancers campaigners — Phil Campbell (Tauranga), David Holder (Mt Maunganui) and Sloan Cox (Rotorua) — add further variety to the top-10 contenders.
Defending New Zealand rally champion Ben Hunt with his Subaru Impreza NR4. Photo / Geoff Ridder
Joining Hunt in the Subaru challenge will be Matt Summerfield (Rangiora) and Lance Williams (Te Aroha).
Providing contrast to the new cars is a 44-strong Otago Classic Rally field headed by former WRC star Markko Martin (Estonia) who is this year’s international guest driver in a Ford Escort RS1800.
Deane Buist (Christchurch), Regan Ross (Kaikoura), Derek Ayson (Clinton), Jeff Judd (Christchurch) and Brian Stokes (Waikuku) provide a fleet of fast Ford Escort drivers chasing the Classic honours. Marcus van Klink (Kaiapoi) and John Silcock (Rangiora) campaign Mazda RX7s and Australian Jeff David brings a Porsche 911 to the event.