NZRC to heat up Canterbury Forests
Images: Geoff Ridder Photography
The Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship roars back into action this weekend with round three of the series, the Lone Star Rally Canterbury, set to heat up the Ashley and Okuku forests.
The man picked to set the pace is current NZRC leader Ben Hunt. Hunt and co-driver Tony Rawstorn took their Subaru Impreza to maximum points at the opening round in Whangarei, but were dogged by punctures at the second round, Rally Otago. “Our aim is to consolidate this weekend and gain a good haul of points, not like our last run at Otago” stated Hunt. The Nelson driver is excited by the challenge of the Canterbury Forest stages and also the two night time stages which open the event on Saturday event. “I’m looking forward to getting back into stages on South Island Forests roads which I really enjoy. I also love the night stages which are a great unique aspect of this rally.”
Hot on his heels and looking to capitalise on any mistake will be Tauranga’s Phil Campbell with co-driver Venita Fabbro, who have recorded two podium finishes to date and with consistency are proving themselves a genuine title threat. “We’ve had a great start to the championship so far and it is now really important that we put together another strong result to really boost our chances of a strong championship result,” stated the Tauranga driver.
The local support will be with the Rangiora brother and sister pairing Matt and Nicole Summerfield. Summerfield won this event in 2012 but since its return to championship status the local is yet to make the finish. With a standout performance at Otago, Summerfield represents a real threat for outright honours. “This event has certainly thrown us up a mixed bag in the past but I can’t wait to get underway and put a good result on the board,” says Summerfield. “We had some really good speed at Otago and that gives us a lot of confidence heading to our home event.”
Seeded behind the ever consistent Mitsubishi’s of Graham Featherstone/Dave Devonport and Brian Green/Fleur Pedersen is New Zealand’s fastest female, Emma Gilmour. Teaming up with Australian Anthony McLaughlin, Gilmour will be looking to translate speed into a strong finish in her Suzuki Swift, with the same to be said for the Mazda 2 of Andrew Hawkeswood/Jeff Cress. Meanwhile Te Aroha’s Lance Williams will be looking to back up a solid third place at Rally Otago along with Crunch Bennett in their Subaru.
The Gull Rally Challenge category is likely to be a big battle between mainland drivers Darren Galbraith/Rocky Hudson (Timaru) and Richard Bateman/Sharisse Guckert (Blenheim), both in Mitsubishi’s, but could come under threat from the North Island combinations of Hugh Spence/Tim Eddington (Gisborne – Subaru) and Tyler Radovan/Tony Kenrick (Auckland- Mitsubishi).
The two-wheel drive battle is likely to be between the front-wheel drive Ford Fiesta of Max Bayley/Mal Peden and the front runners in the BNT Historic Category. That class is likely to be a battle between the local crews of defending Historic Champion Marcus van Klink/Dave Neill (Mazda RX-7), and former national champion Brian & Anne Stokes (Ford Escort). Both drivers are very experienced in the Ashley Forest and will be knocking on the door of a top 10 result outright. The pair won’t have any room for error however with another BDA Escort of Tony Gosling/Blair Read and the Mazda RX-3 of Andy Martin/Matt Hayward snapping at their heels.
A lot of focus will be on the performance of New Zealand Motorsport legend Greg Murphy who makes his rallying debut at the wheel of the Stadium Cars Motorsport Ford Escort. The four times winner of the V8 Supercar Bathurst 1000 is under no illusions of the challenge of rallying. “I don’t know a lot (about rallying) so I don’t have any preconceived ideas,” said Murphy. “I need to work it out and try and learn as I go. I’m keen to get started and see what it’s all about” “I’ve got no expectations other than to have some fun and enjoy myself. The only goal will be to get to the finish.”
The event gets underway a ceremonial start at Lone Star Manchester St, with two stages under the cover of darkness on Saturday night closely following in the Ashley Forest. A further eight stages, all run on forestry roads in the Ashley and Okuku Forests will run on Sunday before crews return to the Lone Star for the finish from 4.45pm after completing 177 kilomteres of competitive driving.The inclusion of the two night stages along with the cool weather forecasted, including the possibility of snow, mean the Canterbury Rally will have all the elements to challenge drivers.