Christchurch driver Josh Marston will start next weekend’s South Canterbury Spring Rally with a handy lead in New Zealand’s only 2020 rally championship.
Marston, who finished runner-up to Ben Hunt in the 2019 New Zealand Rally Championship, leads the Mainland Rally Series after winning the March season-opener at Westland, and driving to fifth place at the Catlins Coast Rally last month in his Holden Barina AP4.
Chasing the Mainland title hadn’t been Marston’s priority until COVID-19 arrived and the New Zealand Rally Championship was an early casualty.
"Now our focus this year is the Mainland Series because it’s the only championship running in New Zealand. So far, we are doing well in it," Marston said.
At the mid-point of the shortened four-round series Marston leads with 56 points, ahead of Marcus van Klink on 41, defending series champ Garet Thomas with 38, Sean Haggarty with 36 and Catlins winner Matt Summerfield with 32.
"We did a lot of work on the Barina during the off-season to prepare for the 2020 Championship, and the way this year has turned out it’s become a chance to fine-tune the development and set-up of the car," Marston added.
"The NZRC in 2021 is now our main goal, keeping in mind everything else that is happening in the world."
Marston says he isn’t concerned about his fifth placing last time out at Catlins Coast Rally. He says his lack of experience on the roads and the "blind" rally format required a measured approach.
"I had only done Catlins once before and that was about 15 years ago in a Starlet.
"Taking everything into account and going into event with a low risk strategy, I was very happy with our pace.
"We treated the rally as a Mainland series point scoring opportunity. I didn’t want to go out and risk binning it on those fast roads."
Josh Marston (left) and co-driver Andrew Graves will miss November's Rally of Auckland. Photo: Geoff Ridder
Marston’s current plans are to complete the season with the two remaining Mainland events – South Canterbury and his home Canterbury Rally on October 25.
"We’re not planning to go to the Auckland event. We’re looking forward to the amazing roads at South Canterbury and Canterbury and we’ll also do a few more, small local events."
Both upcoming South Island rallies offer a single pass reconnaissance and Stage Notes.
Like all other Kiwi drivers, Marston’s last opportunity to recce rally stages and compete on notes was the NZRC finale at Waitomo, 11 months ago.
"That seems such a long time ago. I’m really looking forward to getting back on notes again and I think we’ll have to be aware that we might have some rusty moments during recce," Marston said.
The South Canterbury event on September 26 starts from Timaru at 9.30am and has eight special stages split by two visits to the Fairlie service park. The route contains 130km of competitive driving and 173km of touring, with the finish back in Timaru at 4.35pm.
Marston and co-driver Andrew Graves are seeded number two behind the Mitsubishi Mirage AP4 of Matt and Nicole Summerfield.
There will be added competition for the Canterbury pair from Auckland’s Jack Hawkeswood (Mazda2 AP4) who makes the trip South looking to continue a winning run in northern region rallysprint events during 2020.
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