Junior Championship mid-season update
This week, we turn our attention to the up and coming stars of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship and check out the young guns in the Junior Championship.
Catering to competitors under the age of 25 as at January 1, points are awarded at the end of the opening day to allow both those in the full championship and challenge classes.
A total of eight juniors would line up for the series opener, with the Category 1 cars of Ari Pettigrew and Jack Hawkeswood up against the two-wheel drive Category 2 cars of Jordan Grant, Bryn Jones and Jackson Clendon. They’d all have to keep an eye over their shoulders at the Challenge competitors, Zeal Jones, Tim Smith and Jonty Brenssell.
Pettigrew would set a cracking pace throughout the season opener, not only top junior but second outright despite nursing a blown headgasket. Hawkeswood and Brenssell were separated by just two tenths of a second across the opening test, however Brenssell’s event and season in a four-wheel drive car would end against a tree in the second stage. That promoted Zeal Jones into third, just ahead of Clendon and Grant.
Zeal Jones’ podium challenge ended with a trip into a field, but there was no doubt about the top of the class, Pettigrew finishing close to two minutes ahead of Hawkeswood, with Clendon the first of the two-wheel drives in third. Grant led home Smith, who’d been running as one of the first cars on the road and came home ahead of Bryn Jones, campaigning a borrowed car awaiting the arrival of his new Fiesta Rally4.
The series moved North to Rally Whangarei and only Smith and Brenssell would skip the northernmost round, while Bryn Jones welcomed his new car, the same spec as Clendon. Pettigrew would again set an early pace, leading a pair of Jones’ (no relation), Zeal ahead of Bryn through the opening stage while Clendon and Grant were right amongst the battle as well. Hawkeswood suffered a nightmare start, with punctures in each of the first two stages, costing eight minutes.
Looking to be running away with the Junior Championship, Pettigrew would make a small mistake in SS4 that saw him roll out of the rally. Zeal Jones picked up where Pettigrew had left off with a stunning drive to top the Juniors after 10 special stages, while Clendon and Grant had both managed to leapfrog Bryn Jones who was lucky to make the rally at all after a nasty stomach bug saw him miss half of recce. Hawkeswood would set some impressive stage times across the afternoon tests, but ultimately had lost too much time with the morning punctures.
Smith and Brenssell returned to the fold for the South Canterbury, the latter returning to the Toyota Starlet he campaigned in 2022, while Hawkeswood decided to miss the event. With ground to make up Pettigrew would again set the pace on the opening stage despite a trip through a fence. Things got harder for him in the slippery stage three, with a broken axle however he would overcome the obstacle to take a second junior round win for the year.
Behind him, Zeal Jones was initially second before a scary spin in stage two saw Tim Smith leapfrog him for second, while Bryn Jones and Grant were fourth and fifth fastest. Clendon would stop within the stage with a gearbox oil leak while Brenssell would retire at stage end with a broken axle.
A storming drive through the remainder of the day meant Smith would go unchallenged in second, while Zeal Jones banked third place points, just ahead of Bryn Jones and Jordan Grant, securing valuable points.
Those points mean Grant currently leads the Junior race, his 58 points just four ahead of Bryn Jones while Pettigrew sits third on 50. Zeal Jones (45), Clendon (42), and Smith and Hawkeswood (40 each) round out the standings, leaving a fascinating end to the season across the final two rounds.