There’s one factor the leading contenders in this weekend’s Waitomo Rally in the King Country will be keeping firmly in mind – Joe McAndrew and his fearsome, unrestricted class Nissan Skyline GTR (pictured right).
The former New Zealand champion turned marathon rally driver is the top seed for the Te Kuiti-based event, and he’ll be tough to beat.
As a member of a rival team notes: “When you see Joe McAndrew on a rally entry list, you know you’ve got a fight on your hands. McAndrew is quick in whatever he runs.”
He looks like the odds-on favourite but there’s some fairly formidable opposition ranged against him.
Second seed Glenn Smith is an accomplished tarmac driver, and he’s fielding a Sam Murray-prepared Subaru Impreza WRX STi running a more open turbocharger restrictor.
The WRX will lack the Nissan’s straightline speed – maybe 225km/h maximum to the Japanese supercar’s “who knows?”
But the WRX may have the upper hand in tight and twisty running – and there’s plenty of that in the King Country.
Charlie Evans starts third in his Mazda RX7 and is another strong contender on tarmac. He looked set to win in Taranaki last year.
Fourth seed, Toyota racing Series regular Daynom Templeman, won in Waitomo last year and can be expected to set the King Country alight with his 2.3-litre-engined Mitsubishi Lancer Evo.
The car has real pace and Templeman is an exceptional talent.
Fifth seed Neill Marshall won last year’s Taranaki Tarmac Rally in his ex-Smith Lancer Evo 3, and sixth starter Jason Gill (Evo) is a Targa regular with solid tarmac experience.
Other fastmen will include Matthew Jensen (Evo 3), Ray Reid (WRX) and young Taranaki driver Brad Ayling who will be having an outing in his father’s WRX.
Like Smith, Ayling is chasing the North Island series of which the Waitomo Rally is Round 3.
Ayling won the first round in Whangarei, and is a serious contender for the crown.
Current points leader Grant Liston starts 13th in his Honda Integra R and is a very quick tarmac driver. McAndrew has figured strongly in a previous Waitomo Rally with a similar car.
Watch, too, for Stuart Rose who has turned in shatteringly-fast drives on tarmac in his Lexus V8-powered Toyota Hilux.
But the driver who may produce the biggest surprise is John Penny (Evo 8) who is seeded a curiously-low 29th.
Some observers expect organisers to re-seed Penny into the top eight.
An interesting late entry is Emma Gilmour in a Suzuki Swift.
Paul Burborough has built the car at Winger Subaru in Hamilton, and Gilmour will give the front-drive hatch its New Zealand debut. She’ll be co-driven by regular navigator Glenn Macneall.
Gilmour says she was approached to drive the car, and jumped at the chance to rally it.
“It’s a good opportunity to do more miles, on tarmac especially.”
The rally is an unknown quantity for Gilmour – she’s never done the event before.
The car is unknown territory too, though she’ll test it at Pukekohe on Friday to shake it down before the event.
The rally starts at 6.15am on Saturday, June 23, and includes 11 special stages before the first car finishes in Te Kuiti around 4.30pm. There are 180km of special stages.
The main service park will be in the Kuiti township.