Nine competitors from this weekend’s Rally Wairarapa will walk away national champions as long as the climatic events of recent days permit
The final round of the Vantage Aluminium New Zealand Rally Championship comprises special stages around the flood-hit town of Eketahuna. Road damage has forced organisers to forfeit one of the 14 special stages scheduled for the event.
“Stage 11 has been blocked off by flooding, but the council have informed us that there is nothing too worrying to jeopardise the use of the rest of the stages,” Clerk of the Course Dave Davies said.
Over the two days, drivers and co-drivers in Group N 2WD (NZ Fiesta Sporting Trophy), Open 4WD and Historic Challenge will each be competing for silverware; as will Group N 4WD, junior and rookie drivers. The Kiwi 2 pairing of Matt Summerfield and Dave Neill wrapped up their campaign in Rally Nelson along with did Dean Sumner’s co-driver Paul Fallon, who secured the Group N 4WD co-drivers championship.
Keen to join his co-driver atop the podium, Rotorua’s Sumner has his eyes firmly set on his first Gold Star national championship title and is determined to push on after a scorching win in Nelson.
“I will do what I have to do to win the championship,” the 31-year-old said. “The Wairarapa roads are technical and it can be quite hard to get into a good rhythm. Basically we need to look after the car, minimise the risk and keep it on the road.”
Recovered from the flu she had in Nelson, Emma Gilmour still has every opportunity to close the 29-point gap to Sumner. Her Subaru has a brand-new engine for the event.
“We’ve had to use the full three weeks between rallies to get the car ready, but it’ll be maximum attack from stage one! We can challenge for the round win,” she said.
Masterton locals will expect to see Richard Mason at the front of the field after his second-place performance in Nelson. After struggling with his Subaru’s set-up for most of the season, Mason says it is very close to where he wants it.
“We haven’t changed anything from Nelson. I think our car is in good condition to do a good job.”
“We get really good local support and have had right from when we started in the championship. We like the conditions and my driving style is well suited to heavy gravel and long corners,” Mason explained.
Meanwhile, 17-year-old Mitsubishi Evo X driver Sloan Cox only needs to finish ahead of 2WD Fiesta driver Stephen Barker to hold aloft the junior trophy.
On the Group N 2WD championship table, Barker is ahead of Nelson’s Ben Hunt, but a foot wrong on either day could dramatically diminish Barker’s 35-point advantage, so it will still be a race to the finish.
Geof Argyle held on to his Open 4WD lead despite nursing his Mitsubishi through Nelson with clutch issues; a clear run at Wairarapa will wrap up the class win for the second year running.
The Malcolm Stewart Classic Rally section should prove popular and tied NZRC Historic Challenge leaders Regan Ross and Ron Davey head the hunt for the MSCR trophy and national championship honours. These drivers are also closely matched for the rookie championship with Davey leading Ross by four points.
This year’s route has been adjusted slightly to respect farms in the midst of spring lambing. New coast stages east of Masterton replace Pongaroa on Saturday morning, although tests on Sunday remain the same as previous years around Eketahuna.
The Trusthouse Racetech Rally Wairarapa ceremonial start and NZRC signing session commences at 6pm on Friday night at Rally HQ, Copthorne Resort, Solway Park, Masterton.
Top-four Gold Star Rally Driver (Group N NZRC) points: Dean Sumner 264, Emma Gilmour 235, Hayden Paddon 179, Chris West 168 and Richard Mason 152 with one round remaining.
*NZRC points are accumulated over five competition rounds, which comprise 11 independent days. Points scored on each day are combined with bonus points - awarded for the overall class placing at each round - to make up the leader board.