MOTORSPORT

Champions dominate revitalised rally championship classes in Otago

Tuesday 5 April 2011, 5:08PM
By Rally New Zealand
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OTAGO

A real who’s who of current and past champions feature at this weekend’s first round of the 2011 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship. Along with numerous other notable drivers, this year’s NZRC is one of the strongest seen in recent history.

Starting on Friday 8 April, the DriveSouth Rally of Otago covers 15 stages well-known to most of the 29 NZRC-registered teams contesting the event.

Heading the field is Dean Sumner, from Rotorua, and co-driver Paul Fallon, from Taupo, with the defending current champions again campaigning a Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX in defence of the prestigious Gold Star rally championship title.

Peter (‘PJ’) Johnston, chairman of Rally New Zealand, the organisation which runs New Zealand’s premier rally series, says there are many drivers with the potential to win this year’s overall NZRC Gold Star title.

“You could not discount the immediate-past champion Hayden Paddon, from Geraldine, and co-driver John Kennard, from Blenheim, return to the series to complete as many rounds as possible between their Production World Rally Championship commitments offshore,” says Johnston.

Paddon starts the Otago event in a Subaru STI, the first time the 23-year-old two-time champion has competed in the rival to his traditional Mitsubishi cars on New Zealand roads.

Driving a similar Subaru model to Paddon, former champions and Otago rally winners Richard and Sara Mason, from Masterton, have battled to overturn the dominance of Mitsubishi drivers in recent years. The husband-and-wife pairing start the Otago event as one of the few crews with experience on the night stages which open the rally action on Friday night. Christchurch’s Chris West is another former champion and rally winner who’s successfully negotiated Otago’s night-time tests in the past. This year, West pilots a left-hand-drive Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX.

Feilding’s Geof Argyle is another Gold Star champion heading for Otago’s opening round with Palmerston North-based co-driver Phil Deakin. This season Argyle is back to contest the Open 4WD category, a class that he’s won for the past two seasons.

Johnston explains: “The 2011 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship comprises four categories, but only competitors in the premier production car class, for Group N four-wheel-drive (4WD) and Super 2000 cars, are eligible for the overall Gold Star award. Competitors in the category two for Group N 2WD and Kiwi 2 2WD cars, category three for open 4WD cars and category four for historic cars are chasing for category title honours, separate to the overall Gold Star title.

“Examples are Nelson’s Ben Hunt, winner of Rally New Zealand’s inaugural Rising Stars scholarship, who will be driving a Ford Fiesta and the bio-diesel powered Skoda of Rangiora’s Matt Summerfield.

“We’re also delighted to see the historic field has numerous drivers with serious rallying heritage. These include Hamilton’s Gary Smith, Paraparaumu’s Shane Murland and Christchurch’s Jeff Judd, all driving Ford Escort RS1800. Timaru’s Carl Rabbidge will campaign a Ford Escort RS2000 with former class champion Euan Fuge from Feilding in a Mazda RX3 and Pokeno’s Ray Wilson bringing the Audi Quattro name back to rallying.

“As the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship gets underway this weekend in Dunedin, we look set for a fantastic weekend of rally competition. I can’t wait!”

Competitors in the 2011 DriveSouth Rally of Otago starting from Dunedin’s central city Octagon at 7pm on Friday 8 April before completing a 270 km course spread across the region and returning on Sunday afternoon for a ceremonial finish at the railway station at 3:55pm.

A new-look NZRC website is now live – www.nzrallychampionship.co.nz – and fans can also find out more information about any of the events on the New Zealand Rally Championship Facebook page.

2011 New Zealand Rally Championship Calendar
Round 1 – DriveSouth Rally of Otago – 8 to 10 April
Round 2 – Rally New Zealand ‘High Octane at Hampton’ – 7 to 8 May
Round 3 – Rally Wairarapa – 28 to 29 May
Round 4 – International Rally of Whangarei – 15 to 17 July
Round 5 – Rally Hawke’s Bay – 20 to 21 August