Title fight all on in South Canterbury
This weekend’s third round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship in Timaru shapes as perhaps the most defining of the season so far.
With the championship delicately poised and current points leader Hayden Paddon set to head overseas after the weekend, the results of Stadium Finance Rally South Canterbury could well be make or break for many of the major contenders.
Paddon holds a 20-point lead in the standings but the likelihood of him entering any further events this season remains up in the air. He would have to make a mad dash back from Europe to contest the next round in Hawke’s Bay while he is still aiming to be in a Rally1 car at the WRC Rally New Zealand later in the year.
That means the red-hot battle for second could well determine who becomes the 2022 New Zealand Rally Champion.
Ben Hunt is the closest to Paddon after finishing second overall at both Otago and Whangarei in his Skoda NZ Fabia R5.
He sits on 66 points but the logjam behind him is fierce. Raana Horan (Generator Rental Services Skoda) is third on 47 points, Ari Pettigrew (Manukau Auto Centre Holden Barina AP4) is on 43 points, Phil Campbell (Roofing Store Ford Fiesta AP4) on 29, Robbie Stokes (Team Hutchinson Ford Fiesta AP4) on 28, Jack Hawkeswood (Toyota Gazoo NZ Yaris AP4) on 27 and Josh Marston in the RDL Holden Barina AP4 on 26 points.
Horan debuts his new Skoda Fabia R5 at this event while Andy Martin will run his Volkswagen Pol R5 for the first time too.
With each competitor dropping their worst scoring round from the first four events, the championship is wide open.
The class 2 NZRC 2WD battle will be fierce as Dylan Thomson (Ford Fiesta) looks to bounce back from a rare mishap at Whangarei. He will be challenged hard by a pack of talented youngsters that are closing all the time – Jackson Clendon (Ford Fiesta), Jordan Grant (Suzuki Swift) and Bryn Jones (Ford Fiesta) should all feature strongly at South Canterbury.
The historic 2WD battle has been thrilling from the start of the season and shapes to be tight once again on the faster, more open roads of South Canterbury. John Silcock could hold a slight edge in his Mazda RX7 but the Ford Escorts of Anthony Jones and Shane Murland should be right there with him.
Marcus van Klink returns to the Open 2WD class in his Mazda RX8 for his first event of 2022 and will be favoured in a battle that includes the ever-improving Dan Haines (Ford Escort) and Whangarei winner Dave Strong (Honda Jazz).
The Rally Challenge 4WD will see the return of Jeff Ward (Subaru) and Sean Haggerty (Subaru) after the pair missed Whangarei. The likes of Paul Cross (Subaru), Dave Ollis (Subaru), Amy Keighley (Subaru) and Steve Cox (Subaru) will ensure the podium fight is deep.
Jonty Brenssell starts as favourite in the Rally Challenge 2WD class in his Toyota Starlet but Jono Shapley (Toyota Vitz) and Sam Byrne (Mitsubishi Lancer) should keep him honest.
Nine special stages await competitors, starting down near Waimate on Saturday morning before working their inland and north of Timaru before a final stage at Levels Raceway in the afternoon.