Deciding the overall and sub-category champions for the 2012 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship, powered by Brother will take place this weekend 25-26 August over roads in the Gisborne region during the Gisborne Vehicle Testing Waikanae Beach Holiday Park Rally Gisborne.
From a current entry list of 50 teams using late model Subarus and Mitsubishis to classic Ford Escort's and Toyotas, the journey to the east coast could well see a result influenced by the weather.
Recent rain over roads through the Gisborne and Tolaga Bay districts will vary grip levels and further test the mettle of drivers to read and adjust to the conditions while competing to the very best of their ability.
Following four rounds that started in late March and has taken the championship field from Whangarei in the north to Dunedin the south, this weekend's August finale on the east coast will be a fresh challenge for New Zealand's top rally teams.
Needing to cover 295.03km broken in to 12 special stages to be eligible for maximum championship points there is a maximum of 42 points on offer in each category including overall (Goldstar), Group N 4WD, Group N 2WD, Open Class 4WD, Open Class 2WD, Junior, Rookie and Historic Challenge. Up to 7 points are awarded for winning each day, 25 for winning overall and 3 bonus points for fastest time in the power stage.
Heading the overall Goldstar table driving the BNT Subaru is Masterton husband and wife pairing Richard and Sara Mason. Having accumulated 138 points despite a disastrous start to the season at the opening Brother International Rally of Whangarei, the three-time champions clean-swept all remaining rounds to now hold a 38 point advantage over second placed Emma Gilmour.
"If it is wet it may be better being first on the road but in general it will always carry the burden of having to sweep any heavy gravel," said Mason, who starts as first car on the road for the opening day is and poised to collect his fourth Goldstar title.
"From our point-of-view we feel we're reasonably secure in the championship. Emma Gilmour would have to win outright and we'd have to not finish to change that. Together they are long odds; we just have to get a handful of points to wrap things up. Otherwise we're treating the weekend as a test session for next year."
In the familiar runner-up position driving the Vantage Subaru STI, Dunedin's Emma Gilmour says the long drive to Gisborne is reward for getting to drive through areas made famous by past World Rally Championship events during Rally New Zealand.
"It's going to be nice being on new roads again. I've never competed up there before and while New Zealand has fantastic roads to be discovering some new fantastic roads will be a bonus. Other than that it'll be nice to be driving again – as the season seems so short only being five rallies," said Gilmour, who could secure her third second place championship finish in as many years.
"There isn't too much for me to do. We'd still love to have a win for the final round of the championship – that'd be absolutely awesome. The championship title is out of our control now, we can only do the best job possible and what happens happens. Our aim is to have a strong finish to the season."
Placed third and 25 points behind Gilmour, Christchurch's Matt Jansen and co-driver Jason Farmer in the Mitech Subaru STI have aspirations at moving up the championship ladder:
"We are going to try. The pressure has come off with regard to the junior championship title so we are going to try our best to take that second overall position. Being they are roads no one in the championship has done in a decade it might give us a pretty level playing field as far as pace notes go. Gisborne is known for its roads – that are apparently quite different to anything else in the country. We just hope it's an out-and-out battle on flat-out roads."
To start behind Gilmour for the opening day, Coromandel's Alex Kelsey and co-driver Raymond Bennett make a return after a see-saw season that has seen the pair in the modified Subaru STI go from early series leaders to fourth in the standings. They are currently one point ahead of 2004 champion Chris West, who will debut a Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X for the season finale.
Adding to the stakes, Rangiora's Matt Summerfield and co-driving sister Nicole have a five point lead over Kelsey in the Open Class 4WD category. Also in a Subaru STI the former 2WD champion has also endured highs and lows this season, having recently won the Possum Bourne Memorial Rally.
Nelson's Ben Hunt and co-driver Tony Rawstorn are part of a Ford Fiesta group, with the 24-year-old contractor buoyed by two successive round wins against rival Phil Campbell of Tauranga.
Also from Tauranga, David Holder and co-driving brother James will switch from their Open Class 2WD Toyota to start the final round in the Stadium Cars supplied Ford Fiesta. Holder has an insurmountable lead over Palmerston North's Tony McConachy for the category title, similarly for the rookie standings, where he out-shone Auckland's Ross Clarke.
Included in the Fiesta line-up, Auckland's Dave Strong and co-driver Kylee Smith return in the 4WD non-turbo version, having a chequered season of reliability and sit 13 equal in the overall standings. Sharing the spot is Palmerston North businessman Brian Green and co-driver Fleur Pedersen, who will contest the last round in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X. Also tied for the spot, Balclutha's Duncan McCrostie and Andrew Graves will be taking their historic category Nissan Bluebird turbo to Gisborne to try improving on their third overall spot.
Positioned behind Hamilton's Miles McElwain and co-driver Dennis Carson in a Toyota Corolla, the 22 point difference is equal to that enjoyed by leader's Marcus van Klink and Dave Neill from Kaiapoi.
Winning the first three rounds and looking likely to secure the title early in the season, mechanical misadventure struck the South Island plumber during the Possum Bourne Memorial Rally round, run as part of Brother Rally New Zealand. Retiring early the team missed three days' worth of points and returned to the grasp of both McElwain and McCrostie.
"For us, really the main aim is to wrap up the championship, which at Rally NZ we found out is easier said than done," said van Klink. "That will be the final box for us to tick…"
Ahead of the weekend's action the cars will partake in a ceremonial start on the Friday evening 24 August outside Vehicle Testing Station at 5pm where fans can collect autographs from the teams. The competition begins in earnest Saturday morning 25 August with the first car starting at 7am to lead the field through seven stages set to the west of Gisborne, including three service halts at Brunton Road.
The teams return to Gisborne for a final service from 5:30pm in Reads Quay before being parked up for the night.
Competition resumes on the Sunday 26 August where the leading car will leave Gisborne Motors at 7:30am and head for Tolaga Bay to cover five stages, some of which have not been used since the early 1980's.
Following a final service in Tolaga Bay from 2:05pm, the teams then head to the 23.59km Waimata Valley power stage for a last chance to improve their championship placing. The event and series concludes with a ceremonial finish back at Gisborne's Reads Quay from 4:15pm to acknowledge the championship victors.
News and information about the championship – including driver profiles and team news – can be found on the website www.nzrallychampionship.co.nz