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This weekend’s first round of the Vantage Aluminium Joinery New Zealand Rally Championship begins with the two-day Tomoana Warehousing Rally Hawke’s Bay (4-5 April 2009).

A five round series spread over six months covering three North Island and two South Island locations, the gravel based competition pits teams against the clock in an effort to cover set navigated courses as quickly as possible.

Heading the New Zealand based entry-list, defending champion Hayden Paddon (Geraldine) and co-driver John Kennard return in their winning Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 9 as the first of 31 championship teams’ away for the Hawke’s Bay opener.

Followed by former champions Richard and Sara Mason (Subaru Impreza) from Masterton, the field also includes Christchurch’s Chris West and Garry Cowan (Mitsubishi EVO 8), Hamilton’s Emma Gilmour and Glenn Macneall (Subaru Impreza), Rotorua’s Dean Sumner and Paul Fallon (Mitsubishi EVO 9), along with Hastings pairing of Stewart Taylor and Logan Taylor (Mitsubishi EVO 9).  
One of two teams entering the brand new Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 10 include Rotorua youngster Sloan Cox and co-driver David Calder, along with Northland based rookie Kingsley Thompson and co-driver Richard Ellis.

As well as the Group-N specification late-model four-wheel-drive turbo-charged cars, the series also includes two-wheel drive competitors and several older model cars who will equal-foot vie for outright event and class honours as part of the championship.

Canterbury’s Marcus Van Klink enters the New Zealand title chase in a Toyota Trueno AE86, while defending the Kiwi-two-wheel-drive crown; Wellington’s Aaron Cook and co-driver Strattan Campbell head the small-car field, followed by the first of five Ford Fiesta cars running to FIA Group N3 specification.  Three of which are Nelson based drivers, led by Rally New Zealand Rising Stars Scholarship winner Ben Hunt and co-driver Jeff Cress, second placed award winner Daniel Harris (co-driver Darryn Green) and Dominick Unterberger (co-driver Warwick Martin).

Auckland’s Patrick Malley and co-driver Malcolm Read return to defend the Group N3 title, followed by Northland pairing of Ben Jagger and Ben Hawkins.

New Zealand’s first bio-diesel championship car, piloted by Rangiora’s Matt Summerfield (16 years old), breaks cover, bringing the 1.9 litre Skoda Fabia vRS out as a genuine challenger in the two-wheel drive stakes.

Making a return to New Zealand competition following a hiatus after Asia Pacific experience, former rally champion Geof Argyle (Palmerston North) and co-driver Phil Deakin will campaign a Mitsubishi Lancer, with Timaru’s Glenn Inkster and co-driver Glenn Goldring among the well-known new competitors to the series.

Auckland’s Rob Wylie and co-driver Paul Turner return to defend their classic class title, the Nissan 240RS a regular to championship competition following the team’s maiden victory last season.  Along with regular’s Mike Cameron and co-driving wife Helen (Taranaki) in their Mitsubishi Lancer, former champion Euan Fuge (Manawatu) and co-driver Donna Elder return in the Mazda RX3 with rookie team Richard Kelsey and co-driver Rob Scott running a Mazda RX7.

Preceding the opening round action, all the championship cars will be on display at Napier’s Sound Shell from 4:30pm Friday afternoon, before crossing the ceremonial ramp adjacent to Marine Parade at 7pm.  The competition begins in earnest Saturday morning with a 25 kilometre journey to start off the Napier/Taupo highway and in to the 18.53km Waipunga stage.

Progressing north, the cars complete a further three tests before a lunch service stop in Wairoa to turn the teams south through traditional county and forest reaches before the end of day stop in Napier.  Adding to the tests set down for the weekend, the season end to daylight saving at 2am on Sunday will give teams an extra hour to prepare for the final day.  Resuming from 7am Sunday morning, the journey pushes teams north and inland, refreshing during the day at the Whirinaki Pulp Mill service area.

Adding to the spectacle, the 11.28km Triple Bridges stage alongside the Ngaruroa River between Hastings and Napier provides the penultimate test before a 24km sprint through the ‘Dartmoor’ stage brings the crews to the ceremonial finish at Napier’s Pak ‘n Save Supermarket carpark on Station street from 4pm.
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