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Thirty-one competitors have confirmed entries for the 2011 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship, creating one of the most competitive and talented fields seen in the nationwide rally championship for some years.
 
New Zealand’s premier production car class – which includes Group N four-wheel-drive (4WD) and Super 2000 cars – has attracted the largest number of entrants. The 14 competitors include defending champion Dean Sumner (Rotorua), former champions Richard Mason (Masterton), Chris West (Christchurch) and Hayden Paddon (Geraldine), high profile drivers such as Emma Gilmour (Dunedin), and the NZRC’s new sponsor Brian Green (Palmerston North).
 
This class has also attracted an Australian entry from Queensland’s Matt van Tuinen, which adds a new trans-Tasman aspect to this year’s competition. Paddon’s entry, it must be noted, includes just the Otago and Whangarei events at this stage.
 
“It’s absolutely fantastic to have such a strong field of entrants across the four categories. We can expect this year’s championship to be intensely competitive and very exciting to watch,” says Peter (‘PJ’) Johnston who chairs Rally New Zealand, the organisation now tasked with organising and promoting New Zealand’s premier rally series.
 
“Our premier category also features the Super 2000 cars that many rally fans are now watching in action as the main class for the FIA World Rally Championship. It’s exciting to see two competitors in the dynamic new Ford Fiesta S2000 rally car, namely Aucklanders Dave Strong and Andrew Keighley.
 
Following the premier category cars through the special stages this season are four entrants from the two-wheel-drive (2WD) class, three competitors in the open 4WD class and ten entrants in the increasingly-popular historic class.
 
“I’m really delighted to see a strong field of young drivers in the two-wheel-drive category, which combines cars built to Group N 2WD and Kiwi2 regulations. As many will know, I’m very passionate about this category of rallying, as learning to drive quickly in a 2WD car is a vital step for young drivers serious about developing a career in this sport. It’s great to see Phil Campbell (Tauranga), Ben Hunt (Nelson), Josh Marston (Christchurch) and Matt Summerfield (Rangiora) set to battle for the 2WD championship title. Matt drives a diesel Skoda Fabia which sets him apart in this class with the others all in Ford Fiestas.”
 
Competitors have demonstrated increasing commitment to the historic rally category in recent years, evidenced by very strongly-supported events such as the Dunlop International Classic Rally of Otago and the biennial Silver Fern Rally.
 
“The historic class has increased in numbers again this year, from eight last season to ten this year,” says Johnston. “While last year’s historic rally champion Regan Ross isn’t back this year, we’re delighted to welcome last year’s runner-up Havelock North’s Ron Davey in his classic Ford Escort. I’m sure we’ll see the intensity of competition go up another notch with drivers like Euan Fuge, from Feilding, in his Mazda RX3, Christchurch’s Jeff Judd and Timaru’s Carl Rabbidge in more Escorts being challenged by former New Zealand rally champion Ray Wilson, from Bombay, who returns to championship competition in an Audi Quattro.”
 
Defending Group N 4WD champion Dean Sumner comments: “2011 marks a year of changes to the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship. With Rally New Zealand running the show I hope to see some positive changes making it easier for younger competitors to step up to NZRC level. It’s also great to see night stages re-introduced at this year’s DriveSouth Rally of Otago which will make the event even more spectacular.”
 
Last year’s young driver champion Sloan Cox, also from Rotorua, adds: “Now that I have the New Zealand Junior Rally Championship title out of the way I’m looking forward to having a crack at the top spot of the New Zealand Rally Championship. Our team is excited about having the professional services of Rally New Zealand run the NZRC and put some well-needed freshness back into the series.”
 
DriveSouth Rally of Otago is the first NZRC event, running from 8 to 10 April, then the series continues with Rally New Zealand based at Hampton Downs from 6 to 8 May, Rally Wairarapa on 28 to 29 May, the International Rally of Whangarei from 15 to 17 July and Rally Hawke’s Bay from 20 to 21 August.
 
A new-look NZRC website is now live – www.nzrallychampionship.co.nz – and fans can also find out more information about any of the events on the New Zealand Rally Championship Facebook page.
 
2011 New Zealand Rally Championship Calendar
Round 1 – DriveSouth Rally of Otago – 8 to 10 April
Round 2 – Rally New Zealand ‘High Octane at Hampton’ – 6 to 8 May
Round 3 – Rally Wairarapa – 28 to 29 May
Round 4 – International Rally of Whangarei – 15 to 17 July
Round 5 – Rally Hawke’s Bay – 20 to 21 August
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