Competitors in this weekend’s Rally New Zealand [7 to 8 May] will be torn between the chance of getting their name on the Rally New Zealand trophy alongside rally icons Colin McRae and Sébastien Loeb or steering to finish for points in the second round of the 2011 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship.
This year Rally New Zealand takes in 260 kilometres of competitive stages through the Franklin, North Waikato and Raglan districts with nearly half the 71-car field aiming to collect points toward the five-round championship series.
Geraldine’s Hayden Paddon currently tops the overall Goldstar drivers’ leader-board, so leads the field through the first day of eight stages in his Supercheap Autos-branded Subaru STI. Paddon and his Blenheim-based co-driver John Kennard finished as the first Kiwis in Rally New Zealand 2010 and the top rally pairing want to go one better in 2011.
“It hasn’t been since the mid-1990s when Possum Bourne was in a top-level factory-supported Subaru that a Kiwi had a realistic chance of winning our home event. This year, without the World Rally Championship cars here, we’ve all got the ultimate opportunity of being first finisher – so that’s my focus – winning the event,” says Paddon.
“As I’m taking a rally-by-rally approach to the New Zealand championship, we will be putting pressure on ourselves to be fastest and to continue to improve my driving before our next round of the Production World Rally Championship. It will be great to go to Argentina at the end of the month after a win at home.”
Defending New Zealand rally champion Dean Sumner is taking a different approach to the weekend’s event, saying the championship is his primary focus. Rotorua-based Sumner drives the ITM-supported Mitsubishi Lancer and following round one in Otago trails Paddon by 20 points. Sumner says he prefers the role of hunter than being hunted.
“We approach every rally that we don’t chase a win, we let it come to us. So we’ll be doing what we normally do and trying our best. A win would be nice and to have our name on that trophy but we’re concentrating on the championship and want to defend our title best we can,” says Sumner.
Like Paddon, the world’s leading female rally driver Emma Gilmour is similarly charged at the chance of having her name etched alongside the world’s best. Currently placed fourth in the standings after running a spirited second overall during the early stages of her home Otago rally mid-April, Gilmour is putting a bet each way on her plans for Rally New Zealand.
“Both. The championship is very important, but if we’re doing well in the championship then we’ve got a good chance of picking up the winner’s trophy as well,” says Gilmour, who came close to finishing first Kiwi at the 2005 event. “It really is a chicken or egg scenario. Everyone wants to be at the front and I’m sure we’ll be revising as we go as to which comes first, the championship or the trophy.”
As well as competitors in the premier Group N (production) category, the field includes open class four-wheel-drive cars, two-wheel drive and the increasingly-popular historic class. Many of the cars that dominated rally competitions in the 1970s through to 1980s appear in this category at Rally New Zealand with a number have been carefully restored to their former glory. One example is the Nissan 240RS used by 1984 Goldstar champion Tony Teesdale, which is again leading the championship standings with its present owner, North Shore’s Rob Wylie. Wylie returns to rally competition this season to reclaim a title he won in 2008 with the same car.
Mixed in with the championship cars a number of replica and modified variants have stretched the entry list, including 1985 Goldstar champion Brian Stokes in a Ford Escort RS1800 and 2009 champions Mike and Helen Cameron in a Mitsubishi. One who has dropped from the list, intending to enter Rally New Zealand even after a high-speed crash at the Otago opener, is Christchurch’s Jeff Judd, who has since been hospitalised following a boating accident.
Rally New Zealand also incorporating a third division with just over half the field contesting the Smartwood by Alpwood Possum Bourne Memorial Rally, which runs only on the Saturday. This event was won in 2010 by Whangarei’s Brendan Oakden, who returns to defend the title. Oakden starts behind the Subaru of Alex Kelsey (Coromandel) and Mitsubishi of Kingsley Jones (Auckland). Driving a Subaru himself, Oakden says starting down the field should help with picking the brake and turning points used by the cars in front.
“Definitely we’re out to win – to defend the title and get the Possum Bourne Memorial trophy back for another year. We’re doing things on the light side this year after some sponsors had to withdraw, so we’re only going for this event,” says Oaken. “It’ll be the first event that Tasha, my co-driver and I have contested since the Far North rally last year, so it’s been a long time since we’ve both been in the car.”
Rally New Zealand officially gets underway with a free-to-attend driver autograph session and ceremonial start at the Manukau City Centre from 6:00pm on Friday 6 May. The first competitors cross the start ramp from 7:30pm. On Saturday morning, competitors then depart at timed intervals from 8am at the Hampton Downs Motorsport Park rally headquarters to contest eight special stages throughout the day, including two super special stages run around the Hampton race circuit. On Sunday 8 May, rally crews face six further stages around Raglan, including the iconic Whaanga Coast stage, before returning to Hampton Downs for the final super special stage on the race track, followed by a prize-giving track-side from 5:30pm.
At Hampton Downs, in between the rally super special stages, other races and action takes place on both Saturday and Sunday, with Sunday’s ‘High Octane on Hampton’ event set to be a must-see day of exciting motorsport action which includes the first-ever running of a Ken Block-style Gymkhana X competition, a Gran Turismo 5 virtual racing challenge with great prizes on offer, drift demonstrations from the stars of D1NZ, a time attack competition around Hampton Downs’ sweeping circuit, a bikini model challenge, a 100-car park-up, and circuit racing from classic and modern muscle cars, sports and GTs, and a specially-invited field of Formula 5000s and Atlantics.
More details, including a free spectator map are available from the Rally New Zealand website, www.rallynz.org.nz.
Access to rural rally stages is via gold coin donation to support the community groups which help with on-event parking and safety marshalling, while adult ticket prices at Hampton Downs are $10 on Saturday and $25 on Sunday and include viewing for the rally’s super special stages run on the circuit.
Fans can sign up for regular newsletters via the event’s website and also keep up with the latest news via Rally New Zealand’s Facebook page.