A record breaking field of competitors and manufacturers signals the start of the 2017 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship fuelled by Gull and driven by Dunlop. The season opening Rally Otago has attracted 132 entries with 53 of those registered for the championship, a record turnout on both counts.
Defending New Zealand Rally Champions David Holder and Jason Farmer will lead the field away from Dunedin’s Octagon on Friday night in the Hyundai AP4+ car WRC star Hayden Paddon drove to victory on the event 12 months earlier.
The pair will have stiff competition, with 2015 champions Ben Hunt and Tony Rawstorn keen to avenge a difficult season last year in the Subaru WRX STi. Behind them is another Subaru piloted by Matt and Nicole Summerfield, who showed incredible speed in 2016, only to be let down by a string of mechanical gremlins. Another looking for a more consistent run will be the fourth-seeded Mitsubishi of Sloan Cox and Sarah Coatsworth.
Dunedin local Emma Gilmour along with Australian co-driver Anthony McLoughlin represent the best chance of a local win in their Suzuki Swift Maxi 1600, with the top ten seeds rounded out by Andrew Hawkeswood/Jeff Cress (Mazda 2 AP4+), Dylan Turner/Malcolm Read (Mitsubishi Evo), Darren Galbraith/Rocky Hudson (Mitsubishi Evo), Glenn Inkster/Spencer Winn (Skoda Fabia AP4+) and Graham Featherstone/Dave Devonport (Mitsubishi Evo).
The variety of vehicles spreads well outside the top ten, with new cars debuting from Toyota and Holden. In total 12 different manufacturers contesting the opening round of the series, with 19 cars chasing honours in the overall four-wheel drive category.
The two-wheel drive battles are likely to be just as hotly contested. The open-two wheel drive class sees Irish Youtube sensation Frank Kelly join the series in his ‘Baby Blue’ Ford Escort MkII, taking on Kiwi-based Welshman Anthony Jones’ similar car. The pair will have competition from the V8 powered Hillman Hunter of Jeff Ward and the turbo-charged Suzuki Swift of Jack Williamson.
Equally the NZRC two-wheel drive class for front-wheel drive cars up to two-litres is set to be an exciting battle with six up and coming stars of the sport all aiming to top their peers. Dylan Thomson returns to the series in one of four identical Ford Fiesta ST’s, up against Ari Pettigrew, Max Tregilgas and Chris McLean. There will also be stiff competition from second generation NZRC drivers Robbie Stokes (Son of two-time national champion, Brian) and Jack Hawkeswood (son of last year’s third place getter, Andrew) in a Toyota and Mazda respectively.
The historic class will be another interesting battle with three former champions headlining a strong field in what is the biggest event for the class on the calendar. Defending champion Marcus van Klink will be joined by John Silcock in a pair of Mazda RX-7’s, while the Ford Escort challenge will come from Regan Ross, Tony Gosling and Paul Fraser. There will also be a pair of Mitsubishi Lancers for Graeme Coey and Mike Cameron.
Competing across the opening day of the two-day event, the Gull Rally Challenge sees another 16 entries split into both two and four-wheel drive classes. The four-wheel drive class is largely dominated by Mitsubishis with only one Ford and one Audi splitting the dominance, while the two-wheel drive class battle features Ford Escorts as well as a Toyota Starlet and Honda Civic.
After a ceremonial start from 5pm on Friday in Dunedin’s Octagon, Drivesouth Rally Otago sees teams tackle 14 high speed special stages totalling 280km across two days of action based to the south of Dunedin. Surviving teams will return to Dunedin’s Historic Railway Station for the finish at 3:10pm on Sunday. Results and live video can be found at www.chrissport.kiwi
The Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship is supported by Brian Green Property Group, Gull and Dunlop Tyres.