Strong start to season sees Hawkeswood in title contention
After the opening three rounds of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship, Force Motorsport driver Andrew Hawkeswood sits in third place in the championship standings after a strong start to the season.
Hawkeswood went to the opening round keen to stamp his authority early on and immediately set the pace with two stage wins to take an early lead. A broken oil cooler in stage four, which led to roadside repairs and a time penalty of 50 seconds, would prove costly and Hawkeswood would finish the day in third, only 35 seconds away from the lead.
The second day would see a huge battle between Hawkeswood and David Holder for the lead, in the end Hawkeswood was forced to settle for second, left rueing the time penalty that was the difference between himself and a victory for the Mazda 2 AP4+ car.
Being the pace setter at Otago, Hawkeswood headed to round two, the international Rally of Whangarei, full of confidence and again looking to set the pace. The opening day did not go to plan however, with a puncture and then driveshaft failure forcing a costly DNF.
With a point to prove, Hawkeswood took control of the second day to lead home the remainder of the field by almost a minute and claim five crucial bonus points.
The third round of the series, Rally Canterbury, saw Hawkeswood and co-driver Jeff Cress as top seeds for the event, the first time in 24 years that a Mazda has been top seed at an NZRC event. However it was not a great omen, when power steering failure near the end of the first stage left Hawkeswood knowing he would struggle through the 33km stage two.
Having topped up the system between stages, the opening split saw Hawkeswood up by more than 10 seconds, only to eventually lose more than a minute limping in treacherous conditions.
With the team forced to change a steering rack, further time penalties were applied and Hawkeswood would fall as far as 22nd place. A classic fightback saw Hawkeswood win three of the final five stages, including the power stage, to get back to sixth place and claim some valuable championship points that moved him to third place in the overall standings.
The second half of the season sees plenty of exciting developments for Hawkeswood and the whole Force Motorsport team, with the team recently completing their new Mazda 2 AP4 car that is likely to be seen in the second half of the season after a test with two yet to be named overseas drivers. Hawkeswood’s son, Jack, is also likely to re-join the series after destroying his Mazda 2 AP2 car at the season opening Otago Rally.
Most importantly, Hawkeswood has put himself in the best position he has been in to take out the New Zealand Rally Championship title in more than a decade when the series resumes with Rally Coromandel on August 26.
– Team Release / Photo: Peter Whitten