The absence of world rally star Hayden Paddon has opened the way for the chasing pack to mount a serious challenge to the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship at this weekend’s third round – the Lone Star Rally of Canterbury.
Paddon has dominated the first two rallies of 2018 and holds an 18-point advantage in the standings but is in Sardinia preparing for next week’s next WRC event on the Mediterranean island.
That means the likes of current series runner-up Ben Hunt, Suzuki driver Emma Gilmour and local star Matt Summerfield have a prime opportunity to pick up some extra points on Paddon.
“He has his WRC commitments and that obviously opens up a door for the rest of the New Zealanders,” Subaru driver Hunt explained. “I think there will be quite a few of us trying to get the top spot and maximize while Hayden is away.”
Hunt and co-driver Tony Rawstrom hold a healthy 27-point gap back to Summerfield (and sister Nicole Summerfield) and Gilmour (and co-driver Anthony McLoughlin), who are tied for third.
“Ben has a bit over us at the moment – he has had a very good start to the year,” Rangiora local Summerfield said. “But with Hayden not here it is all to play for and it will put a bit of pressure back on Hayden for a no-mistakes run from here on.”
Summerfield is set for his third rally in the new generation Mitsubishi Mirage and is desperate to pull back some ground from Hunt.
“The one day sprint events – I guess the approach is a bit more of a push,” he said. “You only really get one chance – there is no next day to come back for the overall result.
“Out of the blocks you have to try a bit harder.”
A couple of other contenders to keep an eye on will be Phil Campbell and Malcolm Peden in the debut of their Ford Fiesta AP4 while the twin Holden Barinas of Josh Marston and four-time Bathurst winner Greg Murphy will look to continue on the promise they have displayed so far in 2018. Reigning Australian Rally champ Nathan Quinn returns in the Richie Dalton-owned Ford Fiesta Proto.
Dylan Thomson and Amy Hudson will start the event as favourites in the front wheel drive class two category although the pair haven’t had much luck in Canterbury in recent years. Their main competition will come from Mike Sheehan and Rocky Hudson – Rocky being the father of Amy. To add even further spice to the day Amy’s brother Jared Hudson will co-drive for David Taylor also in the same category.
Tony Gosling will have Sarah Brennan alongside him this weekend after regular co-driver Blair Read had to skip the event. That pairing starts as favourite in the 2WD class three category while Wayne Pittams and Chris Davison will be looking to repeat their success at Rally Otago.
Regan Ross and Samantha Gray will look to make it three successive wins in the class four 2WD category but will be pushed hard by John Silcock and Grant Marra.
Geoff Argyle and Joelle Eyre stand out in the Gull Rally Challenge class 5A 4WD category though Richard Bateman and Jordyn Smith will have something to say about that.
The incomparable sound of Marcus van Klink and Dave Neill’s Mazda RX8 blasting through the forest will be a real attraction for fans this weekend. They start as favourites in the Gull Rally Challenge class 5B 2WD category but will be pushed hard by Deane Buist and Amy Stokes in the VW Golf GTI.
The Mo Bros of Matt and Karl Adams highlight the Group A class while the father-son combination of David and Liam Gee will push them hard.
The one-day rally sees teams tackle a total of 10 special stages over 162km of testing roads in the Ashley Forest. The last two stages will be in darkness and cars fitted with Hella lights to really spice up the finish of the event.
“I love it,” Hunt said of driving with lights. “It adds a few more elements to the sport. It would be fantastic if we could have night stages at every rally to warrant having the lovely Hella lights on the car.”
The event kicks off at 8am Sunday and finishes back at Lone Star at 7pm.
The 2018 New Zealand Rally Championship is proudly supported by Brian Green Property Group, Gull New Zealand, Dunlop New Zealand, Hella New Zealand and Stadium Finance