New Zealand Rally Championship South Island bound
- 7th August 2013, 8:24am
Celebrating 40 years in 2013 the Stadium Cars VINZ Rally of Canterbury will be contested over nine special stages with the event starting and finishing from Christchurch shopping centre ‘The Palms’.
Last a round of the NZRC in 2000 the action will be contested over roads in the north Canterbury Ashley and Okuku forestry blocks, teams will use Rangiora as the service base for the one day sprint style event.
Nearly half the 54 driver and co-driver teams competing will be chasing for their place on the New Zealand championship table as the gap to current leader Hayden Paddon narrows. On 88 points having won the opening two rounds outright Paddon will miss his second round in succession as he concentrates on his World Rally Championship campaign. Now in second place, on 68 points, Nelson’s Ben Hunt overtook defending title champion Richard Mason following his maiden victory at the previous (Daybreaker) round. Slipping to third, six points behind Hunt, Mason says the journey to the Canterbury region brings a steely emphasis as he and co-driving wife Sara aim for title number five.
“The focus is still the same. The fact of the matter is we need to bag big points and to do that we need to win – which is our aim anyway,” said Mason, who drives a Subaru STI in R4 specification.
“The big thing to consider is we’ve used up our wildcard (drop your worst round) – so the rest of the season we need to make count. And while Hayden is away we need to get as many points as possible so when he returns we can have a bigger battle.”
Having not finished the previous round Mason has to start from position six – with the first five spots reserved for the five fastest from the previous round’s power stage results. Those five get to pick their start order at the Saturday afternoon ceremonial start – fastest first.
Second to pick will be Ben Hunt, who is saving his selection strategy until he’s completed reconnaissance of the roads being used on Sunday. While having never driven the event before Hunt says his championship strategy is based around finishing: “The main goal of this year is to finish every stage of every rally and get as many kay’s under the belt as possible - and that’s what we’ll focus on for the remaining three events,” he said.
“Our car (Subaru STI) is still in Group N specification – as Emma (Gilmour, the previous owner) used to run it as. We’re still on a huge learning curve with the car and that will continue this weekend,” added Hunt.
Fifth in the point standings behind Timaru’s Chris West (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X), Rangiora’s Matt Summerfield and co-driving sister Nicole Summerfield grew up with the event’s roads in their back yard. Third in line to pick for Sunday’s start order the Summerfields compete in the premier Auto Finance Direct Super Rally category for late model cars – using an early version Subaru STI.
Also part of the line-up is competitors in the BNT Historic category (for cars pre-1987) – led by a strong Canterbury based contingent. Headed by Christchurch’s Jeff Judd in a Ford Escort RS1800 on 76 points he is a comfortable 15 ahead of Christchurch’s Deane Buist, also in a Ford Escort RS1800. Third and 27 points behind Judd is defending champion Marcus van Klink from Kaiapoi, in a Mazda RX7. Their two-wheel-drive cars often duel with the modern contingent, led by a pair of latest specification Ford Fiesta R2 cars. Heading the battle is Tauranga’s Phil Campbell on 105 points while Christchurch’s Josh Marston, the early points leader, trails by seven. Along with Mt Maunganui’s David Holder in an earlier model Ford Fiesta they will be joined by open-class 2WD competitors.
Former overall champion Brian Stokes from Waikuku is building toward a 2014 comeback with Christchurch’s Taylor Jansen (younger brother of 4WD competitor Matt) debuting to the series.
Adding to the growing championship field, Canterbury’s Gary Cliff has a unique tie to the event – having contested the inaugural rally in a Mini Cooper 850.
“I’ve seen the trees grow and be harvested twice since then,” says Cliff, who lines up as part of the NZRC field in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo V. Entered to the Gull Rally Challenge category Cliff, a past regular championship competitor, says visiting teams will get a treat contesting the ‘cool roads’.
Category leader Graham Featherstone from Te Aroha will have to take Cliff’s word for that as he tackles less familiar roads, hoping his back-to-back round wins keep him atop the points table.
Also the second of four one-day events that make up the six round series, activity begins on Saturday (10 August) when the cars will assemble at ‘The Palms’ in Christchurch’s suburb of Shirley from 3:00pm. A chance for autograph hunters and fans to collect posters and signatures it is followed by the start order selection and ceremonial start ceremony at 4:30pm. Fans also get to see and hear the cars in action on the Sunday where the first car will leave for Ashley Forest and the first special stage from 8:00am.
Contesting two special stages before returning to the service park adjacent to the Rangiora Fire Station the day consists of two stage groups between service breaks with the first four stages repeated later in the day.
The ninth and final stage of 13.74km is also the championship ‘power stage’ where bonus points and up to $500 is offered for the fastest team in each of the Auto Finace Direct Super Rally, BNT Historic Rally and Gull Rally Challenge categories. The cars then return to Rangiora for a final service including a wash before journeying to the event finish at ‘The Palms’ from 4:40pm where the podium winners will be celebrated.
Spectator maps will be available at ‘The Palms’ on Saturday afternoon or from the Rangiora service park and from local businesses in the township. Fans can follow the rally results online via www.chrissport.co.nz or watch the GPS tracking site www.rallysafe.com.au
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