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It’s hard to pick any clear favourites ahead of North Island gravel rallying getting its eagerly-awaited re-start next weekend. The Rally Bay of Plenty on Sunday, October 18 has attracted a 52-strong entry with a rapid dozen drivers seeded at the front of the field, any of whom are capable of a podium result. The rally is based from the Eastern Bay of Plenty coastal town of Whakatane with a nine-stage itinerary using entirely public roads to provide 123km of competition. It will be almost exactly a year since a gravel rally has been held in the North Island - that event being the Rally Waitomo finale of the 2019 NZ Rally Championship on October 19. Heading the seeding list announced on Thursday is Tauranga’s Phil Campbell teamed with young Christchurch co-driver Jared Hudson. Campbell’s Ford Fiesta AP4 lines up ahead of Raana Horan and Michael Connor (Skoda Fabia R5), Dylan Turner and Malcolm Read (Audi S1 AP4) and Emma Gilmour and Mal Peden (Suzuki Swift AP4), who are making their rally debut together. Seeded fifth against the modern generation cars is the fascinating prospect of five-time NZ rally champion, Richard Mason, making his return to rally competition. Mason has shown winning pace in recent rallysprint outings with his Subaru Impreza and, as usual, will have his wife Sara calling notes. The event allows the use of official Safety Notes but there is no recce opportunity. Hamilton’s Todd Bawden, one of Mason’s early 2000s NZRC sparring partners, starts sixth in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6 with co-driver Paul Burborough, ahead of Tauranga’s Ben Thomasen and Gavin Haycock (Subaru Impreza).

Haydn Mackenzie will continue his gravel learning curve at Rally Bay of Plenty. Photo: Colin Smith

Auckland’s Kingsley and Waverley Jones (Skoda Fabia R5) and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo crews Grant Blackberry and Ric Chalmers (Hawke’s Bay) and Matt Jensen/Tyson Jemmett (Auckland) complete the top 10. Next in the seeded order are Hawke’s Bay driver Quentin Palmer and Noel Moloney (Lancer Evo 5) followed by the Auckland-based crew of Haydn Mackenzie and Michael Goudie (Lancer Evo 9). Carl Adnitt’s unique Mazda RX-8 is the next seeded four-wheel-drive car at 14. Heading the 2WD ranks are 13th seeded Dave Strong and Rob Scott (Honda Jazz). Next are Ian Wood and James West (Toyota Corolla Turbo), Anthony and Zoe Jones (Ford Escort), Brent Taylor and Chris Ramsay (Toyota FT86), Shane Murland and Kane Seymour (Ford Escort) followed by Charlie Evans teamed with Sue O’Neill (Mazda RX7). The event begins with a Rally Car Show from 3.30pm and Ceremonial Start at 4.30pm from Whakatane’s seafront Kakahoroa Drive carpark on Saturday. The Sunday competition starts early with the opening stage at 7.00am and the route features former Rally New Zealand stage venues such as Stanley Rd, Manawahe Rd, Herepuru Rd and Campbell Rd. The rallies organised by Motorsport BOP Inc. have traditionally placed a focus on encouraging novice crews with a discounted entry fee and separate awards. This year a quarter of the entry –13 drivers – have taken up the Novice challenge.

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