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Top rally championship action heads to the southern forest region of Nelson this weekend for the final round of the 2008 Vantage Aluminium Joinery New Zealand Rally Championship (20-21 September).
 
Set over six rounds, the series concludes six months of chasing for coveted titles with the 0800 Boxman Rally of Nelson, contested on the Sunday.
 
With a depleted 14 championship teams entered for the southern finale, top seed and new season champion Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard won’t be heading the field.  Concentrating on the mid-October Malaysian qualifying round of the Pirelli star driver scheme, Paddon shipped his championship winning Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 to Asia, intending to use his last year’s car for the weekend.  However the team opted to send their own spare parts package to Malaysia with the car – leaving them short on essential gear to contest the Nelson weekend.
 
That leaves former champion Richard and Sara Mason to head the field in their Subaru Impreza – the pair second in the championship with a five point lead over Mitsubishi’s Chris West and Garry Cowan.
 
Eying an outside shot at the overall season podium, consistent performance from Hastings team Stewart Taylor and Warwick Searle (Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 9) will keep pressure on the front of the field.  A volley of other out-right pace-setters also lay in the wings:  The Nelson forestry roads provide a high-speed test that has rewarded a number of teams who benefited from running down the order on a gravel-swept road.
 
A return to form by Rotorua’s Emma Gilmour, past winner Dean Sumner, Brett Martin and Callum McInnes are all drivers set to up-end the leading pack should drying conditions in the Nelson forests hold.
 
While Geraldine based Hayden Paddon will be confirmed outright championship winner (the youngest ever) – a number of other category titles remain up for grabs.
 
Wellington’s Aaron Cook and co-driver Jayson Stringer (Honda Jazz) have a commanding lead in the Kiwi-2 two-wheel drive class – only needing a finish to take the title, Cook’s second.  Similarly, second placed Patrick Malley and co-driver Raymond Bennett (Ford Fiesta) need a finish to keep their hopes for the title alive – but also to stave off the second Ford Fiesta of Northland’s Ben Jagger and Ben Hawkins.  The winner of that battle earns the right to compete at the international Fiesta Sporting Trophy shoot-out in the UK at the end of the year.
 
A favourite amongst seasoned teams for its format and road style, the roads through the Redwood Valley and Golden Downs reaches total 199km split in to nine tests.
Weather plays a big part in teams’ performance; with conditions varying from hard, sharp rock base conditions, to mud and slush in wet areas or where there is heavy logging activity.
 
Following a car-show, and driver signing at Nelson’s World of Wearable Arts (WOW) complex from 1:30pm Saturday afternoon, the first car is flagged over the ramp at 3pm.  Action begins at 7:30am on Sunday morning, with a return to the World of Wearable Arts for a 4:50pm finish – including championship winner’s ceremony.
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