PREVIEW: Top guns aiming for Rally Canterbury win this weekend
- 29th May 2016, 11:39pm
Round three of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship sees the series return to the South Island for the Joe’s Garage/Lonestar Rally Canterbury on June 5.
The event itself runs a similar format to last year, with two stages in the Ashley Forest and two stages in the Okuku Forest all repeated, followed by one final blast through the Ashley Forest. The nine stages total up to 171km of special stages, with a mixture of main forestry highways and barely used goat tracks.
With Hayden Paddon now back in Europe with WRC commitments, this event represents the first opportunity for any one of a number of competitors to stick their hand up and establish themselves as a pace setter.
Currently holding a healthy lead in the championship after his debut win at Rally Whangarei, David Holder is in a prime position heading to the Christchurch based event, but realistically needs to focus on a podium finish as opposed to outright victory to secure his championship position.
With no Paddon, Richard Baddock looks set to inherit second place in the championship race, particularly going into his home event. His consistency has been the key to his strong championship position, only just making the finish at Whangarei with a failing centre diff, but with a car now running properly and some local knowledge, is realistically an outside chance of a podium finish.
A lot of eyes will be on defending champion Ben Hunt, who for the first time in his rallying career will be coming back from a sizeable accident. While the brand new Subaru will be well and truly ready to take on the Christchurch forests, Hunt suffered three broken ribs in the Whangarei crash and realistically will not know just how well healed they are until the first stage. If Hunt can push through the pain barrier, his speed at Otago was impressive and he also has a fantastic record at Canterbury.
Outside of the top three in the championship, there are plenty of contenders for outright victory. Sloan Cox led for the majority of the opening day at Whangarei and, if he can string together a consistent run, will be a genuine contender. However, it will be hard to beat local driver Matt Summerfield, who outclassed the field on the second day at Whangarei. History is not with Summerfield though, with three DNFs in the last three years on his home event, so he could well be driving to make the finish.
Emma Gilmour has finally extracted the speed she has been searching for from her Suzuki Swift Maxi, while the AP4 based cars of Andrew Hawkeswood and Glenn Inkster will be looking to return to the form shown in Otago after a challenging Whangarei.
Looking to bag some strong points will be Lance Williams, who has shown strong speed at both events this season, only to have a puncture and an unforgiving roll-over remove any chance of a strong result. Williams was another to go well at Canterbury last year, as did Phil Campbell, who found a lack of speed was partially due to some suspension changes that hadn’t worked.
Adding to the list of potential podium finishers are two local drivers making one off appearances. 2004 national champion Chris West returns in the Ralliart Mitsubishi Mirage run early in the season by series sponsor Brian Green, while Darren Galbraith is expected to top a large Gull Rally Challenge field, while also looking to replicate the second outright he took at this event last year.
Upset results could also come from Graham Featherstone, Shannon Chambers, Clint Cunningham and Carl Davies, all looking to point a decent haul of points on the board.
The Gull Rally Challenge continues to rise in popularity and although Galbraith is expected to set the pace in his one-off appearance for the year, the battle behind him will be fascinating. Richard Bateman and Kingsley Jones each have a round win to their name this year, but the challenge from Wayne Pittams, Lee Robson and Warwick Redfern means the battle for the podium spots will be intense.
Then throw into the mix championship leader Jono Shapley, Tyler Radovan, debutant Jason Clark, Bryn Smith and Dan Alexander, all waiting to pounce on any mistake made by their peers. Former V8 Supercar star Greg Murphy represents the only two-wheel drive entry in the class.
The two-wheel drive battle sees Max Bayley in his R2 Fiesta take on the modern powered Escort of Anthony Jones, while evergreen Dave Strong will be hanging on their heels. Dylan Thomson’s consistent run this season sees him second in the class and looking for a third consecutive podium finish.
The Historic field returns to full strength for this event, with Marcus van Klink heading the field, also holding down a top five outright championship position. He will have his major rival, Regan Ross, return for the event on a rally the Kaikoura driver has achieved plenty of success on in the past.
The opposition won’t be discounted either, with Jeff Judd and Tony Gosling in their Escorts both going quick over the season and John Silcock returning with his Mazda RX-7. Silcock should know his way around the Ashley Forest stages, having kept beehives in the forest for years.
- Blair Bartels
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