Three-way battle for championship at Rally NZ
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Two of the biggest trophies will be on the line at the final round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship, Rally New Zealand, which runs from November 24-26 based from Tauranga.
The Rally New Zealand trophy is amongst the most prestigious in New Zealand Motorsport, with the previous winners list reading a who's who of World Championship Rallying covering almost 50 years. The trophy was last contested in 2012, when it was won by nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb.
Also up for grabs is the title of New Zealand Rally Champion, which seven teams have a mathematical of victory in after five rounds and more than 1000km of special stages that have already been completed.
Top seed for the event will be World Rally Championship star Hayden Paddon, who will team up with former co-driver John Kennard in their Hyundai i20 AP4+ car. While Paddon is expected to be amongst the fan favourites, there will be plenty of interest in the following cars, with second seed Andrew Hawkeswood/Jeff Cress (Mazda 2 AP4+), third seed Ben Hunt/Tony Rawstorn (Subaru WRX STi) and fourth seed Matt & Nicole Summerfield (Subaru Impreza STi), with the three teams separated by only 11 points.
As well as Paddon, there will be plenty looking to spoil the party of the championship contenders, led by fifth seed and defending national champions David Holder/Jason Farmer in the first of two Holden Barina AP4+ cars, just ahead of Sloan Cox/Sarah Coatsworth (Mitsubishi Evo 10), Dylan Turner/Rocky Hudson (Audi S1 AP4), Max Bayley/Lisa Hudson (Ford Fiesta R5), Emma Gilmour/Anthony McLoughlin (Suzuki Swift AP4) with Gull Rally Challenge front runners Adam Bligh/Ric Chalmers rounding out the top ten seeds in the 54 car field.
The Motorsport New Zealand two-wheel drive title, contested by cars in the NZRC two-wheel drive field and open two-wheel drive field, is another nail biter with Dylan Thomson and Amy Hudson's NZRC 2WD Ford Fiesta just two points ahead of the Anthony Jones/Tanya Gwynne Open 2WD spec Ford Escort, with Max Tregilgas/Glenn Goldring in another NZRC 2WD Ford Fiesta only eight points off the lead.
The Historic class is the closest to being wrapped up, with Tony Gosling/Blair Read needing only a finish to secure the title. However Paul Fraser/Chris Davison in a similar Ford Escort RS1800 and the Mitsubishi Lancer of Mike & Helen Cameron mean the series leaders can't relax.
The Gull Rally Challenge is bound to be a real nail biter. Contested over the opening day of the event, Richard Bateman and Adam Bligh see themselves tied for the lead in their similar Mitsubishi Evos. The battle for third in the series is just as tight, with Fred Merkin, Jono Shapley and Matt Adams all within three points of each other, and ready to pounce should Bligh or Bateman strike issues. The two-wheel drive class sees David Taylor just requiring a finish to wrap up that class.
In between the competitors and the prestigious titles on the line are some of the most demanding roads in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty areas. After a ceremonial start from Tauranga's The Strand from 5pm on the Friday night, teams will reconvene in Raglan the following morning for six special stages, including the legendary Whaanga Coast, covering 145 kilometres of special stages before returning to ASB Baypark Stadium in Tauranga on Saturday night. Day two, based in the Bay of Plenty sees a further six stages and 80 kilometres of special stages before the winner will be crowned at ASB Baypark Stadium from just after 4pm.