And they're off! New rally season under way
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The New Zealand rally season raced into action last weekend with Rangiora driver Brad Harris taking a commanding win at the traditional season-opening Stadium Finance Westland Rally.
In Saturday morning’s opening stage Harris (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6) was pipped by Christchurch driver Josh Marston (Holden Barina AP4) but a clear win in the second stage built a lead that Harris extended throughout the eight-stage event.
Marston posted another stage win later in the rally before retiring from second place and Harris reached the finish 1m 33.7s ahead of Darfield driver Gareth Thomas (Subaru Impreza STI) with Lincoln’s John Giltrap (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) only 1s further back in third.
There was the usual strong field of classic two-wheel-drive cars in action at South Island events with Kaikoura’s Regan Ross (Ford Escort RS1800) driving to fourth overall and edging the Ford Escort of Robert McCallum (Christchurch) by 5.1s in a duel decided in the final stage.
Apart from Marston’s Holden Barina the only other AP4 car in the field was Job Quantock (Kaiapoi), and his Skoda Fabia was halted by a broken axle after five stages.
In the North Island the early season gravel competition has focused on rallysprints.
Three rounds of the ABC Pipe Fitters Northern Rallysprint series have been completed with a number of NZ Rally Championship contenders in action for pre-season shakedown outings.
The first two rounds in Northland were won by defending series champion Graham Featherstone (Te Aroha) in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo7, while Hamilton’s Stephen Barker (Lancer Evo9) won the Pukekohe Car Club round at Bothwell Loop Rd earlier this month ahead of Aucklanders Kingsley Jones (Skoda Fabia R5) and Dylan Turner (Audi S1 AP4).
The northern series continues this Sunday with the Piakonui Rd event near Matamata hosted by the Thames Valley Car Club.
There was almost a miniature rally in early March when Motorsport BOP revisited Rally of New Zealand roads for a dusty dual stage rallysprint at Manawahe Rd and McIvor Rd near Lake Rotoma.
After the field had completed three loops of the dual stage contest, Auckland’s Raana Horan (Skoda Fabia R5) had established a 5.7s winning margin ahead of Tauranga’s Phil Campbell in his Ford Fiesta AP4.
The first major event of the 2019 domestic rally season is the DriveSouth Rally of Otago over the April 13-14 weekend.
Headlining the 125 crews on the provisional entry list is Hayden Paddon (Hyundai i20 Ap4) looking to repeat his 2018 victory, while Norway’s Mads Ostberg returns for another crack at the Classic Rally.
The Otago format has been expanded this year to include the opening Pacific region round of the revamped FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship along with the NZ Rally Championship opener and the popular Otago Classic Rally.