PREVIEW: Rally Coromandel, NZRC-5
- 15th August 2016, 10:10am
The fifth and final round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship sees teams head to the holiday town of Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula for the Mahindra Goldrush Rally Coromandel.
At only 120km, the event will be a real sprint from the start. Despite the short distance, the event has proven itself as a gruelling event with some of the tightest and twistiest roads in the country.
Starting out with the traditional 11.1 kilometre Earnslaw stage, the fastest gravel stage of the event, crews then head to a new stage, Port Charles, north of the town of Coromandel. At 16.5km the stage runs near the coast, with organisers already comparing sections to the iconic Whangaa Coast.
Then the first of three passes through the 309 road takes crews back to service. A loop comprising of the longest stage of the event, the 23km Tapu Coroglen road and another pass of the 309 road, which has the lowest average speed of the event (stage record of 81km/h) runs twice with each pass leading back to the Whitianga service park.
The final loop of stages see teams head to the tarmac super special stage, then the power stage, a reverse run of the opening stage, with the final stage once again running around the streets of Whitianga.
After a superb drive at Gisborne put him in an unassailable position, David Holder heads to the series finale looking for a third win of the season in the Stadium Finance Mitsubishi. While a lot of his rivals are in a tense battle for second place in the championship standings, Holder heads to the event with no pressure on and has a good record at the event, with a second and third place in the two previous versions of the event.
Leading the battle for second in the championship, which sees eight cars separated by 12 points, is Emma Gilmour. Gilmour has showed plenty of speed in 2016, with her and her team really getting on top of the set-up of the Vantage Suzuki. With a win and a second place from the two finishes so far, reliability has been the team downfall, but with a fresh engine for the series finale, expect Gilmour to be near the front in what will effectively be a winner takes all battle.
After a tough start to the season at Otago, Graham Featherstone has just about made fourth place his own in this year’s championship, securing the spot at both Canterbury and Gisborne after retiring, again from fourth, at Whangarei. However the Te Aroha farmer’s speed has increased at each event and has stood on the podium in Whitianga before. Expect the unexpected from Feathers with the carrot of a top three spot inside the championship.
Currently fourth in the championship, it would take a brave person to bet against Sloan Cox for a win at Coromandel. In his first attempt at the event last year, he was the only driver who could hold any kind of challenge to Ben Hunt and after a sub-standard start to the season at Otago, has won stages at every event this year.
However niggling mechanical problems have cost the Rotorua driver dearly and as a consequence, sixth at Gisborne represents a best result to date. If Cox can string together a clean run, he will be fighting for the top spot.
Seeded fifth and also well amongst the battle for second is Andrew Hawkeswood. Since putting a restrictor in his Mazda 2 AP4+ car, Hawkeswood’s speed at Gisborne was sensational, a second a kilometre up on rally winner Holder, until a gearbox input shaft failed. Hawkeswood missed this event last year, but two punctures cost him the win in 2014 and he has his sights firmly set on the second in the championship, although he will need some other results to go his way.
Seeded at six is the outgoing national champion Ben Hunt. Moving to the new Subaru WRX STI for 2016, Hunt made a strong debut with second behind Hayden Paddon at Otago, but a crash at Whangarei and mechanical problems at both Canterbury and Gisborne have left Hunt yet to win a stage all year, let alone put any decent points on the board. Hunt will be looking to regain some confidence on the event that gave him his most recent victory 12 months earlier.
Another driver who has failed to secure the results expected of him in 2016 in seventh seed Matt Summerfield. After taking his first NZRC round win at the series finale last year, Summerfield suffered mechanical failures at each of the first three rounds before electing to skip the fourth.
The speed has been good all year though, twice chasing Paddon home in power stages and leading before his Canterbury retirement, while he also beat Phil Campbell on home ground in the non-championship Tauranga Clubman’s Rally in a new car, the Mitsubishi Mirage. Summerfield returns to his Subaru for Coromandel and will be looking to transfer the speed to this event, where he has struggled in the past.
Making a one-off appearance in New Zealand, Australian Brendan Reeves will take the wheel of the Mazda 2 formerly run by Andrew Hawkeswood. For Reeves, the event is an opportunity to have some fun on some different roads, but the Victorian is certainly one that the local contenders will be keeping a close eye on and could well be a spoiler in the battle for second in the championship.
After a third and a second at the two rounds Dylan Turner has contested in 2016 (Whangarei and Gisborne), the Auckland driver would dearly love to continue the streak and claim his first ever NZRC round win. The Coromandel event is not one that has been kind to Turner, with a best result of seventh in 2014, but with Turner in the form of his life, watch out.
Rounding out the top ten seeds, Lance Williams was finally able to turn his speed into a podium result in 2016 at Gisborne. A best finish of fifth on the Coromandel event is one that Williams will be keen to improve on.
For a man who has a worst result of second place at Rally Coromandel, being seeded 11th may seem harsh for Phil Campbell but to call his 2016 season tough would be an understatement. A second place to Summerfield on his home turf in the non-championship Tauranga rally has raised some spirits in the team but a strong result at Goldrush will be crucial moving into 2017.
Seeded 12, Glenn Inkster could be a dark horse. A driver who has great confidence on repeat stages, particularly those he has competed on previously, Inkster may fly under the radar of many but if he can string together a finish, is a dark horse for sure.
Last year, Inkster contested Whangarei and Coromandel in preparation for this year’s championship return and at Whangarei set top three stage times early on, while his performance last year at Whitianga saw several very fast split times in his first drive of a new car.
Having had two top five results stripped via the rule book in 2016, Clint Cunningham will be looking to make one stick. His car speed has certainly improved this season and aside from a disappointing Gisborne event when the crank angle sensor failed on the first touring stage, so has his consistency. He is another that has gone well in Whitianga, with a career best result of fourth two years ago.
Carl Davies also comes to Whitianga with a good history. Despite not being part of the championship, he took third outright in 2014 and after having 2015 off, returns to the event in 2016 in the car that won the rally. Davies speed has improved through the year, finishing third at Canterbury and crashing out of sixth place at the previous round in Gisborne.
The first stage, which is commonly used in the Northern Rallysprint Series Davies just claimed the runner up spot in, is one where Davies will be expected to make a strong early move.
The man that will be there to pick up the pieces will be series sponsor Brian Green. Green has endured a tough season in the Team Ralliart Mirage, which he claims ‘suits a driver far younger than I am!’
The Gull Rally Challenge will offer up an interesting battle in both the two and four wheel drive categories. With an unfortunate incident at the Tauranga rally that has sidelined Bryn Smith with a back injury, Kingsley Jones can’t be caught for the title so is free to battle for the rally win, but the form is with Gisborne round winner Grant Blackberry and Lee Robson is another that has been quick across the second half of the season.
While Blackberry will struggle to climb the ladder enough to claim second, there will be a big battle for second between Jono Shapley, Warwick Redfern and Robson. However the list of drivers that could take a round podium is huge with both Richard Bateman and Jason Clark making the trip up from the South Island, both having claimed podium results this year, as well as Auckland drivers Jono Walker, Tyler Radovan and Dan Alexander, as well as several contenders from the Group A challenge.
The two-wheel drive Gull Rally Challenge sees Jeff Torkington needing to make the finish to claim his second title in the class after Greg Murphy was unable to secure parts needed to fix the gearbox in his Vauxhall Chevette. He will however have a battle on his hands up against the Mk1 Escort of series rookie Rob Connell.
The open two-wheel drive class is one of the classes where the title is still open with Dave Strong’s 13 point lead meaning he needs to finish to claim his ninth two-wheel drive championship (in various guises dated back as far as 1996).
However the man expected to set the pace is Anthony Jones in his Mk2 Escort, who won the opening two rounds before two mechanical failures at Canterbury and Gisborne bumped him down to second place. Dylan Thomson sits safe in third place for the title race, but could overhaul Jones if the ex-pat Welshman fails to finish, while Jack Williamson will be looking to claim another podium finish after a season interrupted by mechanical failures.
The historic championship has already been wrapped up by Marcus van Klink, who incidentally in one of the drivers still in contention for second in the overall championship, but the battle behind him for second place will be all on, not to mention that this is an event that van Klink has not gelled with so bragging rights are definitely on the line. Currently second equal are the Mazda RX-7 of John Silcock and the Escort RS1800 of Jeff Judd, so it comes down to a winner takes all battle between the Cantabrians, while Tony Gosling took honours in this event last year after being robbed battling for the lead in 2014.
The prestigious junior title will go down to the final stage, with Lance Williams ahead of Sloan Cox by a single point, while a finish should ensure Carl Davies the rookie championship. If he strikes problems however, the young two-wheel drive duo of Dylan Thomson and Jack Williamson will be ready to pounce.
Also up for grabs will be the inaugural Group A Challenge title for pre-93 Group A cars. The short sharp format of the class sees the event split in two, with points awarded for the first five stages, then again for the afternoon loop of stages.
Currently leading the class is Ray Wilson in his Audi Quattro and he will start the Coromandel event as favourite. However there will be competition from the Mitsubishi VR-4 of Matt Adams and the Subaru Legacys of Simon Bell as well as series debutants Marty Smith and Chris Sheriff, while Phil Collins faces a big battle to have his Audi Quattro ready after a roll-over at the Catlins Rally only a week ago.
With only 120km of special stages, expect the action to be fast and furious. You can see live coverage from the event at http://livestream.com/rallylivenz, with live results on http://chrissport.co.nz/event.php?db=coromandel2016 and live tracking at www.rallysafe.com.au
- Blair Bartels
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