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This weekend’s final round of the 2009 Vantage New Zealand Rally Championship will be a title decider between internationally honoured competitors over forest roads for the two-day 0800 Boxman Rally of Nelson (19-20 September).

Leading the Goldstar title chase heading in to the fifth and final event for 2009, recently awarded Pirelli Star Driver contender for 2010, Hayden Paddon (Geraldine) has a 61 point lead over Emma Gilmour (Hamilton) who is currently second in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship.  Third, 74 points behind defending champion Paddon, Richard Mason (Masterton) claimed second in the Production-World Rally Championship category at Repco Rally Australia two weekends prior.

With both Paddon and co-driver John Kennard (Team Green Mitsubishi) and Mason with co-driving wife Sara (BNT Subaru) having recently returned from the Australian round of the World Rally Championship, their cars won’t arrive in time for the weekend competition.  Instead they will use same-brand alternatives.

That opens opportunity for other chargers in the championship to pressure for the rally win.

A field of 55 cars will start the 274 kilometre journey, headed by New Zealand’s premier competitors.  With a total of 74 points on offer for the top championship categories, the event will conclude a six-month journey of the country.

A rally known for fast flowing and open roads, higher horsepower yet older model Open Class cars are well placed to dominate the leader-board.  Mitsubishi campaigners Andrew Hawkeswood (Alexandra), Glenn Smith (Hawera) and Glenn Inkster (Timaru) are all outside the points reach of championship titles and join former champion Chris West (Christchurch) in the premier category Mitsubishi, as a favoured pack to take event honours.

Consistency from Nelson local Kieran Hall (Subaru) to feature on the podium has the 25-year old well placed to claim the rookie title over Christchurch’s Matt Jansen (Subaru).

“Obviously rookie is pretty important to us,” said Hall, fresh with ideas from WRC teams.  “For the team and sponsors we really want to stick to our guns and get it because it’s the first goal in our four year plan.  We’re on track for that, having had a pretty successful year, so it would be a nice way to cap it off.”

Meanwhile Jansen has a second title in his sights, with the lead in the junior standings over Sloan Cox (Rotorua) in the new left-hand-drive Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X.

Entertaining followers, a five-car Ford Fiesta group has fronted the two-wheel drive title chase with three of the teams Nelson based.  Led by Whangarei’s Ben Jagger and co-driver Ben Hawkins, defending champion Patrick Malley and co-driver Malcolm Read have local team of Ben Hunt and co-driver Jeff Cress wedged in-between and in-reach of the season title.  Mixing speed and consistency, Nelson’s Daniel Harris and co-driver Paul Fallon along with Dominick Unterburger and co-driver Warwick Martin have a shot at a podium position and the impetus of home-town bragging rights.

Although Rangiora’s Matt Summerfield in the bio-diesel powered Skoda Fabia vRS has wrapped up the Open Class two-wheel drive title, he has yet to break the dead-lock with rallying’s statesman Reg Cook in the Nissan Micra for the Kiwi-2 crown.  Both tied on 205 points, it is a 17-year-old versus 62-year-old for the season title.

Shy on the numbers of past years, the classic category competition will provide an agonising weekend for Taranaki couple Mike and Helen Cameron.  With a 73 point lead, they are a solitary point away from their maiden championship victory.  Their 1970’s Mitsubishi Lancer has to complete one of the two days to achieve that.  With defending champion Rob Wylie (Auckland) returning with his Nissan 240RS following significant damage in early June, former champion Euan Fuge (Feilding) in the Mazda RX3 is likely to size-up the pace of the larger car using his spectacular side-ways style.

Returning to the two-day format, the 0800 Boxman Rally of Nelson uses forestry based roads lined by sticks and tyre puncturing rocks - precision is the safety net for a finish.  However, pushing the limits will require calculated short-cutting to reduce time on the stop-watch.

Now starting on the Saturday (19 September) from the city’s Trafalgar Street at 10:15am, teams then head to a group of three stages south-west of the city, passing several spectator vantage points, before they are repeated in the afternoon.  Totalling six tests over 135 kilometres, they return for an overnight park late in the day, having time to prepare for Sunday’s final day of competition.  A further seven tests adding a further 140 kilometres of competition. 

Again journeying south, a return to the Golden Downs area uses familiar roads that traverse from ridge top to ridge top via spectator points and valley links.  Following two service stops at the former Tadmor Forest Headquarters during the day, teams return to Nelson’s World of Wearable arts (WOW) for an outdoors champagne celebration from 3pm.

Points: Goldstar (overall driver) - Vantage New Zealand Rally Championship after round four (of five)
1 Hayden Paddon (Geraldine) Mitsubishi Evo 9  274
2 Emma Gilmour (Hamilton) Subaru Impreza WRX 213
3 Richard Mason (Masterton) Subaru Impreza WRX 200
4 Kieran Hall (Nelson) Subaru Impreza WRX  128
5 Matt Jansen (Christchurch) Subaru Impreza WRX 119
6 Sloan Cox (Rotorua) Mitsubishi Evo 10  107
7 Ben Jagger (Whangarei) Ford Fiesta ST  101
8 Kingsley Thompson (Kerikeri) Mitsubishi Evo 10 100
9 Josh Marston (Christchurch) Mitsubishi Evo 8  98
10 Patrick Malley (Auckland) Ford Fiesta ST  82

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