Series leaders produce another victory in the Rally Championship
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Ben Hunt and Tony Rawston produce another Rally Championship drive
The fine print of the regulations has kept the New Zealand Rally Championship battle alive going into the early-October finale in the Manawatu and Wairarapa.
Series leader Ben Hunt (Auckland) and co-driver Tony Rawstorn (Nelson) produced another front-running drive to win the Mahindra Goldrush Rally of Coromandel on Saturday, their fourth victory from five starts in 2015.
Hunt (Subaru Impreza) was fastest on five of the opening six stages on the demanding 309 Road, Castle Rock and Tapu-Coroglen gravel to open an almost half-minute lead over his nearest title rival, Tauranga’s Phil Campbell (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9).
In the final three stages Hunt stretched that lead to a winning margin of 37.8secs while a late-rally charge from Mt Maunganui’s David Holder (Lancer Evo8) put pressure on Campbell and saw a slim 6.1 margin decide the podium places.
Emma Gilmour showed some strong pace but her Suzuki Swift Maxi was delayed with electrical problems.
Holder was returning the championship after crashing out of Whangarei series opener in April.
Further back Subaru Impreza drivers Matt Summerfield (Rangiora) and Lance Williams (Te Aroha) completed the top five and Timaru’s Darren Galbraith in his older Challenge Class Lancer Evo6 finished sixth.
Some fast stage times were produced by local Coromandel favourite Alex Kelsey in his self-built Peugeot-bodied Kelsey MC2, Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour (Suzuki Swift Maxi), Rotorua’s Sloan Cox (Lancer Evo10) and Hamilton’s Todd Bawden (Lancer Evo6), but all experienced delays that pushed them down the finish order.
Bawden - a former rally winner at national championship level who has just returned to the sport after a nine-year break - finished in seventh while Cox was 14th, Kelsey 32nd and Gilmour 36th among the 37 finishers from 56 starters.
The new Volkswagen Polo of Auckland’s Shannon Chambers made a promising debut and climbed to seventh place but was sidelined by an engine problem at the start of stage seven.
The Coromandel win build Hunt’s tally for the season to 130 points. That is a net score which includes four wins with a strong haul of Power Stage bonuses and discards his Rally Otago result – where he was delayed by punctures.
Drivers count their best four results from the first five rallies and carry that score forward the Manawatu-Wairarapa finale on October 3.
That leaves Campbell trailing by 24 points and the only driver with a chance to overhaul Hunt’s total. A win is worth 25 points with up to five bonus points to be gained from fastest time in the Power Stage.
Williams is third in the championship chase on 88 points with Summerfield on 84 and Te Aroha’s Graham Featherstone (Lancer Evo7) with 73.
Canterbury’s Marcus van Klink - who had held fifth overall in the championship in his Historic Class Mazda RX-7 Group B car - retired from the Coromandel event with diff failure.
The final round of the series on October 3 combines stages from the Manawatu Daybreaker Rally and Rally Wairarapa with the start at Pohangina and eight stages before the rally finish at Masterton.
Brian Green Property Group NZ Rally Championship (after round 5 of 6):
1 Ben Hunt (Auckland) Subaru Impreza WRX STI, 130pts
2 Phil Campbell (Tauranga) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9, 106pts
3 Lance Williams (Te Aroha) Subaru Impreza R4, 88pts
4 Matt Summerfield (Rangiora) Subaru Impreza WRX STI, 84pts
5 Graham Featherstone (Te Aroha) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo7, 73pts
6 Emma Gilmour (Dunedin) Suzuki Swift Maxi, 62pts.