Defending champion leads NZRC opener
Defending champions David Holder and Jason Farmer have started where they left off in the 2017 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship fuelled by Gull and Driven by Dunlop. The pair powered their Hyundai AP4+ to a lead of 16.7 seconds over Rhys Gardner and Ally Mackay’s Mazda, with Andrew Hawkeswood and Jeff Cress third after an eventful day that saw 16 of 51 starters fail to finish.
It was Hawkeswood who came out swinging in his Mazda 2 AP4+, with two stage wins propelling him to the lead at the first service, heading Holder and Glenn Inkster in his Skoda Fabia AP4+. However a split oil cooler after stage four for Hawkeswood combined with a charge from Holder saw the defending champion take the lead, while the previous leader dropped to fifth after roadside repairs saw him incur 50 seconds of penalty. Those penalties would eventually be the difference between the day win and third.
A string of consistent times lead Rhys Gardner into second behind Holder on what is the Dunedin driver’s home event. Inkster moved into third place, but lost out to Hawkeswood for the final podium spot on the final stage. He will start the second day only 3.7 seconds behind Hawkeswood. Graham Featherstone and Dave Devenport showed consistency is the key on their way to fifth place.
Sixth place and leading the Historic Category is Regan Ross and Lisa Hudson in their Ford Escort RS1800. The pair are also leading the world famous Otago Classic Rally, heading off former WRC driver Markko Martin. The top ten is rounded out by Deane Buist/Karl Celeste, Dylan Turner/Malcolm Read, Sloan Cox/Sarah Coatsworth and Marcus van Klink/Dave Neill.
The NZRC two-wheel drive class for two-wheel drive cars under two-litre sees Dylan Thomson and Amy Hudson leading after early pace setters Ari Pettigrew and David Calder retired with engine failure. A solid days work saw Chris McLean and Sarah Brennan second ahead of Robbie and Amy Stokes.
The open two-wheel drive class saw Irish Youtube sensation Frank Kelly with co-driver Noel Moloney setting the early pace before leaving the road, giving Anthony Jones and Tanya Gwynne a comfortable lead in their Ford Escort, over the Hillman Hunter V8 of Jeff Ward and Murray O’Neill and the Suzuki Swift of Jack and Brenda Williamson.
The historic class has been dominated by Ross, who heads off van Klink by more than a minute. The third place battle sits in favour of John Silcock and Richard Atkinson’s Mazda RX-7 after Tony Gosling and Blair Read spun their Ford Escort on the final stage.
The Gull Rally Challenge, contested over the opening day of the event, saw Deane Buist and Karl Celeste set the pace in his Ford Escort. His drive not only saw him take maximum points in the two-wheel drive and overall class of the challenge, but also collect a drum of Gull Force Pro fuel. Richard Bateman and Jordyn Smith were top-four wheel drive car, heading home Fred Merkin/Sandra Everson and Lloyd Owen/Jonty Brenssell, while the two-wheel drive podium was rounded out by David Taylor/Pania Huntley and Daniel Alexander/Richard Burnett.
Day two of the Drivesouth Rally Otago sees teams tackle a further seven special stages and 140km before the finish at the Dunedin Railway Station from 3pm.
Photo credits: Geoff Ridder