NZ Rally Championship returns to fast stages of South Canterbury
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The 2018 New Zealand Rally Championship offers its third and final chance to race on South Island roads this weekend.
The return of South Canterbury’s fast gravel stages — they last hosted NZRC action as the final round of the 1984 national championship — sees a Timaru-based event which has attracted a high-quality field for Saturday’s fourth round of the national championship.
WRC star and series leader Hayden Paddon in his Hyundai i20 AP4 heads a 96-strong line-up for the Stadium Finance Rally of South Canterbury which will challenge crews with 195.5km of special stages.
And the entry list reflects the growing international interest in the New Zealand championship with top Australian drivers Brendan Reeves and Nathan Quinn set to challenge the Kiwi drivers.
Top Australian driver Brendan Reeves returns to the New Zealand Championship this weekend driving a Force Motorsport Mazda2 AP4. Photo / Greg Henderson
Reeves will be chasing his third win on New Zealand roads having scored back-to-back victories at the Coromandel event in 2016 and 2017.
He’s seeded second and his return to Kiwi competition will be behind the wheel of one of the Mazda2 AP4 cars from the Force Motorsport squad. Team boss Andrew Hawkeswood (Auckland) is also re-joining the series and will start sixth on his first appearance since clinching the 2017 national title.
Subaru driver Ben Hunt (Auckland) remains second in the championship in spite of an nearly exit from the most recent round in North Canterbury and is the third seed ahead of Australian champion Quinn.
Quinn drove Neil Allport’s Ford Fiesta R5 at Whangarei and switched to the Fiesta Proto of Australia-based Irishman Richie Dalton to finish second at the Canterbury Rally earlier this month and move to fifth in the championship standings.
Dalton is also entered for South Canterbury and Quinn has yet to confirm a car for the Timaru event.
Rangiora’s Matt Summerfield (Mitsubishi Mirage AP4) starts at five ahead of Hawkeswood and Canterbury winner Josh Marston (Christchurch) who is the most recent event winner and is seeded seventh in his Holden Barina AP4.
Timaru’s Richard Galbraith returns for his local event after crashing out of the Otago Rally in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo8 while Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour (Suzuki Swift AP4) and Auckland’s Raana Horan (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) complete the top-10.
Ben Hunt and co-driver Tony Rawstorn are second in the NZ Rally Championship after three rounds. Photo / Greg Henderson
Richie Dalton is seeded at 11 ahead of Holden Barina driver Greg Murphy who performed strongly at Canterbury with a career-best fourth place.
Historic class front runner Regan Ross (Kaikoura) in his Ford Escort RS1800 and Open 2WD leader Marcus van Klink (Kaiapoi) in his triple-rotor Mazda RX-8 will lead the two-wheel-drive field.
Further back in the line-up two former national champions will compete in classic Ford Escorts. Brian Stokes (Waikuku) is seeded 24th and Neil Allport (Auckland) starts at car 34.
The rally starts from Timaru at 7.30am Saturday and the route has 10 gravel special stages before a super special stage at the Levels Raceway which will be tackled on the well-worn gravel tyres used in the final loop of stages.
The first three stages take crews to the service park at Fairlie for a 9.51am check-in and three more stages loop back to Fairlie again for the second service at 12.08pm.
The afternoon has the potential to be an endurance challenge with four gravel stages and the final race track stage completed without service before a 3.30pm finish ceremony at Levels Raceway.
Following the South Canterbury event the NZRC heads north for the Goldrush Rally of Coromandel on August 18 and Rally of New Zealand finale based at Raglan on October 13.
NZ Rally Championship (after round 3 of 6):
1 Hayden Paddon (Wanaka) Hyundai i20 AP4, 88pts
2 Ben Hunt (Auckland) Subaru WRX STI, 70pts
3 Josh Marston (Christchurch) Holden Barina AP4, 68pts
4 Matt Summerfield (Rangiora) Mitsubishi Mirage AP4, 61pts
5 Nathan Quinn (Australia) Ford Fiesta R5/Proto, 53pts
6= Raana Horan (Auckland) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9, 44pts
6= John Silcock (Rangiora) Mazda RX-7, 44pts