Championship returns to Southland and night stages

The Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship heads to the Deep South for the first time in two decades when the Southern Lights Rally begins on Friday night.

Based out of Invercargill, the best rally drivers in the country head back to some iconic roads that were once a staple of the national title.

With a Friday night stage in the dark, featuring parts of the iconic Pebbly Hills stage, competitors will be challenged in a different way than in other events on the 2024 calendar.

WRC rally winner Hayden Paddon starts as the favourite in the Hyundai New Zealand i20 AP4 but will still need the leading championship contenders to strike trouble or drop points if he wants to overcome missing the opening round of the season.

Robbie Stokes (Stokes Motorsport Ford Fiesta AP4) has sister Amy back in the co-driver’s seat for this event and will be aiming for a third successive second place finish.

Ben Hunt (Skoda New Zealand Fabia Rally 2) is also chasing a third-straight podium – the three drivers appear to be battling out the 2024 title at this point.

Jack Hawkeswood (Force Motorsport Toyota GR Yaris) won the opening round at Otago but ran into problems at the second round in South Canterbury. He has the pace to create a problem for the title contenders but will need each of them to have some issues to get back in the title battle himself.

Emma Gilmour (Vantage NZ Citroen C3) is one of only a handful of drivers with experience competing on these roads, but she has also made a co-driver change with Ben Searcy returning in the seat for this event.

Youngster Zeal Jones (Smith and Sons Skoda Fabia R5), Stewart Reid (SR Automotive Mitsubishi Mirage AP4), and Andy Martin (Carbonworks Forestry Volkswagen Polo Rally 2) will push for a podium spot if any of the leaders strike trouble.

Dylan Thomson headlines the NZRC 2WD class, but the battle behind should be an intriguing one – Bryn Jones (Ford Fiesta), Jack Stokes (Ford Fiesta), Tim Mackersy (Ford Fiesta) all have the ability to make a statement over the weekend.

Mackersy is once again in his older model car with the paperwork still not complete on the new car.

Dave Strong (Honda Jazz) and Willy Hawes (Toyota GT86) will continue their season-long battle in the Open 2WD class and are joined by Murray Percival (Ford Escort) in his first outing of the season.

Paul Fraser (Ford Escort) and Mike Cameron (Mitsubishi Lancer) will also continue their battle in the Historic 2WD class.

One of the most fascinating battles will be the Rally Challenge 4WD class which is deep and choc-full of local drivers that will be out to prove a point in their home event.

Andrew Graves (Mitsubishi), Mark McMillan (Subaru), Carter Strang (Mitsubishi) and Caleb Macdonald (Mitsubishi) headline the battle but there a numerous other contenders that could feature come the end of Saturday.

Defending champion Jared Parker (Toyota Corolla) will start as favourite over Pat Norris (Toyota Yaris) in the Rally Challenge 2WD battle.


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The New Zealand Rally Championship is this country’s premier nationwide rally championship. It attracts New Zealand’s best drivers to compete in numerous categories for the prestigious MotorSport New Zealand-sanctioned rally championship titles. In 2024, there are six NZRC rounds, each with a unique character reflecting the diverse regions – from Northland to Invercargill