As the final round of the Vantage Aluminium NZ Rally Championship, the 230km of competition at Rally Wairarapa will determine the outcome of the 2010 season
After a superb drive at Nelson, and having scored the maximum points available there, Dean Sumner is in pole position for the finale. Taking full advantage of the extended break prior to the Nelson event, Sumner carried out extensive testing and completely changed the setup in his car. Now featuring a very high proportion of rear end grip the car is able to get significant drive out of the corners. However this comes at the cost of more understeer than Sumner is used too.
“It doesn’t feel nice to drive, but it appears to perform a lot better” said Sumner. It worked well at Nelson, now we will have to wait and see if it works just as well on the Wairarapa roads.
Sumner’s cause was helped by the less than ideal performance of Emma Gilmour. Suffering from a cold during the weekend, it appears that her car was not well either. Although Gilmour managed to retain 3rd place for the rally overall, it was the points for each day that her championship bid rests on. As a result her 3rd and 5th placings on the two days of competition in Nelson sees her drop back to be 29 points adrift of first place, although still second place in the championship. A significant result when you consider that she was just two points behind Sumner going into the Nelson event. This means that Gilmour has no alternative but to go for maximum attack at Wairarapa and hope that Sumner strikes problems along the way.
With the closeness of the competition at each event it could take something as simple as a puncture to drop enough places for the points to evaporate. The championship title will certainly be an exciting fight, right down to the last rock throwing kilometre.
The other result that will please the patriotic Masterton locals is the return to form of Richard Mason. His season hasn’t gone to plan after the purchase of a new Subaru Impreza. Sorting out the teething problems has lead to an entire revamp of the car’s settings and setup. Right down to changing the driver’s seat and its position in the car. That hard and sometimes frustrating work has paid off, with top results at the last event. Undoubtedly there will be further tweaks by the Mason team in the weeks to come, and he will be looking to get back the Wairarapa trophy he lost two years ago. As always, Mason's aim is to win, especially on home turf.
Apart from the fight at the front of the field, there are also other titles to be decided. With the spotlight turned to the classic cars, through the inaugural running of the Malcolm Stewart Classic Rally as a part of the overall event, not only is there the Malcolm Stewart Trophy at stake, but the NZ Historic Rally Championship as well.
The leading contender in the national championship class has been Regan Ross in a BDA Escort. Spectacular to watch, and a favourite of the crowds, he struck mechanical problems on day 2 of the Nelson Rally. This meant that Ron Davey was able to claw back his points deficit, and now both drivers are tied for the championship lead. This undoubtedly is the closest title fight for the classic class since its inception.
Certainly the flowing country roads of the Wairarapa are well suited to the sideways action of the rear wheel drive classics, and the competition will be hot. Not only for the national championship, but also for the Malcolm Stewart Trophy, as many others have an eye on it gracing their trophy cabinet.