Spectacular field for National Rally Championship opener
The 2015 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship is set for a titanic battle with one of the strongest championship line ups in recent years to take the start line at round one in Whangarei from 17th-19th April.
The entry is headed by five-times national champion Richard Mason, and includes a host of New Zealands top rally drivers with the extra excitement of American rally sensation Ken Block joining the line-up for the opening two rounds. Seven different manufacturers will be represented with four wheel drive turbocharged rallycars from Subaru, Mitsubishi, Ford, Mazda, Suzuki, Peugeot, and the NZ built Kelsey creation.
The form team heading into the opener are the Masterton husband and wife pairing of Richard and Sara Mason. The Masons dominated the 2014 NZRC with five wins from six starts to claim a record fifth national title and will campaign the same Prodrive built Subaru Impreza.
American rally star Ken Block makes a return to the NZRC driving the Hoonigan Racing Division Ford Fiesta HFHV, normally campaigned in the Rally American Championship. The star of WRC, Rallycross and the Gymkhana series of online videos is one of the most colourful and exciting competitors currently in world motorsport. Block has experience of NZ rallying, completing a full season of the NZRC in 2007 followed by a number of appearances at WRC Rally NZ.
Leading the charge of the new generation drivers in NZ rallying are runner-up in the 2014 NZRC season, Nelson’s Ben Hunt and co-driver Tony Rawstorn, back in their Subaru Impreza chasing a championship victory, while reigning Junior Rally Champion David Holder of Tauranga returns for his second season in the 4WD division in the ex Hayden Paddon Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8.
A lot of excitement surrounds the entry of Coromandel driver Alex Kelsey who is sure to turn heads with his radical Kelsey Mad Creation 2. Featuring a custom built spaceframe chassis, powered by a V6 Renault engine, Kelsey’s Creation built by his own team in the Coromandel has potential to be a frontrunner and will be spectacular on the fast Northland stages.
After several championship podium finishes, New Zealands fastest female rally driver Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour is targeting a championship victory in her four wheel drive turbocharged Suzuki Swift. Emma will have experienced co-driver Anthony McLoughlin alongside. Aucklands Andrew Hawkeswood is also eyeing outright results in the new generation Mazda 2 after the car showed great pace during its debut season in 2014.
Tauranga’s Phil Campbell (Mitsubishi Evo 9) who scored his maiden championship round win last season, former Top Half Series champion Dylan Turner (Mitsubishi Evo 9) of Auckland, Targa New Zealand winner Glenn Inkster (Mitsubishi Evo 9), 2014 Rookie Champion Lance Williams (Subaru Impreza R4) of Te Aroha, and regular top five runners Matt Summerfield (Subaru Impreza – Rangiora) and Graeme Featherstone (Mitsubishi Evo – Te Aroha) highlight the quality throughout the four wheel drive field.
Veteran campaigners Brian Green (Mitsubishi Evo X), and Dave Strong in the rapid Ford Fiesta S2000 now Honda V6 powered, are both back to commence battle, while completing the 4WD field for the opening round are NZRC rookie Shannon Chambers (Evo X), Dermott Malley in the exciting Peugeot 208 Proto and Aucklander Clinton Cunningham debuting his exciting Mitsubishi Lancer Evo WRC.
Leading the 2WD entry is reigning champion Max Bayley from Hawkesbay who returns for his second season in the Ford Fiesta R2. The BNT Classic championship is set for an exciting battle between 2014 champion Marcus Van Klink in the spectacular Group B RX7, Papamoa’s Andy Martin in an immaculate Mazda RX3, and two times national champion Brian Stokes of Christchurch back in the NZRC in a Ford Escort RS1800, 30 years after he first won the championship.
The Gull Rally Challenge category contested over the first leg of the event only has attracted a strong field for round one. The 4WD class is headed by regular regional rally front runners Richard Bateman from Nelson and Kingsley Jones of Auckland, with competition coming from fellow Mitsubishi Lancer Evo drivers Jono Walker, Jono Shapley, Tyler Radovan and Warwick Redfern. Last years class winner at Whangarei Dan Walker, is the lone Subaru pilot. The 2WD Challenge class is set for a fierce battle with defending Challenge Champion Jeff Torkingtons MR2 up against Anthony Jones Ford Escort and Justin Glavish Toyota Starlet, two drivers both capable of giant killing performances in two wheel drive machinery.
The International Rally of Whangarei is the opening round of the 2015 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship. The event gets underway on Friday night with two runs of a Superspecial stage under lights in Whangarei before heading north on Saturday for eight special stages on the fast flowing cambered roads the rally is famous for, while Sundays final leg heads south of Whangarei for a further six stages. A total of 282 kilometres of competitive stages make-up the event. Full event details available at www.rallywhangarei.co.nz
The 2015 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship supported by BNT and Gull is contested over 6 rounds across the nation – Rally of Whangarei, 17-19 April; Rally of Otago, 9-10 May; Canterbury Rally, 31 May; Rally Gisborne, 27 June; Rally Coromandel, 22 August; Rally Wairarapa 3 October
Images: Euan Cameron Photography & Hoonigan Racing Division