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Top New Zealand Rally driver, Andrew Hawkeswood, has his sights firmly set on his next big rallying challenge, an outright win, in the week long South Island based, NZ Silver Fern International Marathon Rally.
Following his overseas experience last year, which netted an excellent fourth placing at the famous American hill-climb event Pikes Peak, and a second placing for the second year in a row at the 2006 Queenstown Silverstone Race to the Sky, Hawkeswood says “I decided to give this event a go. Pikes Peak was last years challenge, this year we are building another new car, and have chosen our rallying adventure a bit closer to home”.
And an adventure it will be, with around 1500km’s of planned high speed special stages. “I am really looking forward to the challenge of this rally, it’ll be the longest event I’ve ever done, and some of those 70-80km stages sound amazing, but we’re trying not to be too fazed by all that, if we can pace ourselves we should do well.” said an enthused Hawkeswood.
In Hawkeswood’s Whitford workshop he already has a mechanic working full time on the brand new car, which is aimed at the “Classic” section of the October 7th to 14th event. What started life as a 1984 Mazda RX7, is currently well on its way to becoming a “big wing Group ‘B’ look-a-like”, which will be powered by a 320hp peripheral port Mazda 13B rotary engine.
Like a number of this country’s current top drivers, who will also be competing, he agrees that converting from a modern turbocharged four-wheel-drive rally car back to an equally powerful, but rear-wheel-drive only car, will be a challenge in itself.
Hawkeswood has only ever competitively driven a rear wheel drive car once before, and he says “that was over 15 years ago, when I started a Hamilton Tarmac event seeded 99th but we managed to finish 14th”. Incidentally the car he drove on that occasion was also a Mazda RX7.
Hawkeswood hopes the new car will be competitive right from the word go, as at this stage he doesn’t have any plans or probably enough time to test the car, but says that will be a decision the team makes as and when the car is completed.
During the week long NZ Silver Fern Rally, the powerful Mazda is expected to chew thru literally dozens of tyres. The team are planning to be fully prepared with an extensive spare parts supply, including a truck with “pretty much two of everything” on board.
This will be the first time a major International Status Rally, of this type, has been held on gravel roads in New Zealand’s South Island since the days of the Heatway and Motogard Rallies, back in the 1970’s and 80’s.
Hawkswood is one of the many drivers who have reacted positively to the concept of the event, “it’ll be neat being back on some of the old roads again and to be able compete in a friendly social event”, where the emphasis is based on endurance and reliability, rather than outright speed.
The NZ Silver Fern Rally will start from the Picton waterfront, at midday on Saturday October 7th, before teams compete their way around the South Island. Scenic Circle Hotels will be used as bases for each of the events overnight stops. The rally travels to Greymouth, Queenstown, Dunedin and Christchurch before returning via Nelson to the finish in Blenheim.
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