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The second round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship sees it collide with the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship for the International Rally of Whangarei.

Ben Hunt will be hoping for another podium finish after taking second place at the Otago Rally. Photo: Geoff Ridder

Held on what are widely regarded as some of the best roads in the world, the event is running in two sections with eight cars entered in the international event, and a further 43 as part of the national field. In total, a record field of 40 NZRC cars will take on the event.

Leading that field is World Rallying’s current man of the moment after his debut WRC victory in Argentina, Hayden Paddon, who will once again line up in the AP4 based Hyundai i20. Paddon and John Kennard obliterated the field by close to nine and a half minutes at the season opener, but Whangarei represents his last appearance for the season, so realistically, the championship battle will be fought out behind him.

Currently leading that pack is Ben Hunt in his new Subaru WRX STI, who battled hard with David Holder’s Mitsubishi at Otago before coming out on top. Having fought hard to secure further sponsorship to get to the event, Holder will be keen to end his run of four accidents in four years at the event.

The pair will not have a two-way battle though. Issues at Otago held back both Matt Summerfield’s Subaru and Sloan Cox’s Mitsubishi. Cox also returns to a former co-driver in Sarah Coatsworth for the event, with regular co-driver Malcolm Read sitting alongside APRC regular Mike Young for the event. Young has also registered for a one-off appearance in the NZRC and will be a strong contender.

Also worth keeping an eye on will be the AP4 style cars. Andrew Hawkeswood’s Mazda 2 and Glenn Inkster’s Skoda Fabia both had strong debuts at Otago that were thwarted by mechanical issues, while Emma Gilmour’s Suzuki Swift showed plenty of speed until turbo failure on her home rally. With three weeks between events, Gilmour has put in plenty of seat time competing in Sealine endurance rally in Qatar.

Another driver getting in plenty of seat time and aiming for some extra speed is Phil Campbell. Campbell suffered a huge crash only five days before the opening round, and now with the chance to triple check the car as well as two club events on the weekends between national rounds, should be back on the pace that bagged him second in last year’s championship.

Another that showed fantastic speed at Otago was Lance Williams until a puncture and battery problems slowed him, while other dark horses include Otago’s Dunlop Driver of the Rally Richard Baddock, Shannon Chambers’ Volkswagen and Graham Featherstone in his Mitsubishi, while looking to record a finish after failing to finish in Otago will be Carl Davies’ Subaru and the Mitsubishi’s of Clint Cunningham (Evo Proto), Andy Martin (Evo 10) and series sponsor Brian Green (Mirage).

The Gull Rally Challenge, to be contested only over the first day, sees another 12 four-wheel drive cars line up, with Kingsley Jones and Grant Blackberry expected to fight for the lead, but with plenty of competition from Wayne Pittams, Lee Robson, Jono Walker, Warwick Redfern and Tyler Radovan, who returns after a big crash at Otago. Jonthan Shapley’s consistency could see him in good stead to leave with the series lead.

The two-wheel drive field sees Max Bayley return in his Ford Fiesta R2 to take on Anthony Jones’ Duratec-powered Escort, Dave Strong’s Honda Civic and the young guns Jack Williamson (Suzuki Swift) and Dylan Thomson (Ford Fiesta ST).

The BNT Historics will not only fight for championship points, but also the Motogard Trophy which was awarded to the winner of Rally New Zealand from 1978 to 1982. After his opening round win, Marcus van Klink starts as favourite in his Mazda RX-7 but is expected to have plenty of competition from the Escort RS1800s of Jeff Judd and Tony Gosling.

The route sees stages largely the same as last year, starting with two passes of the Pohe Island Super Stage on Friday night. Saturday comprises four stages north of Whangarei repeated either side of the midday service park, while Sunday’s competition sees a loop of three stages repeated. All up, teams will take on 275km of fast, flowing special stages.

- By Blair Bartels

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