A once iconic part of the New Zealand Rally Championship returns to the six round calendar with the country’s best rally drivers tackling this weekend’s Manawatu based GoPro Daybreaker Rally roads, Saturday 29 June.
The third round for the 2013 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship, the event was last included in 2001 – as the season title decider.
This time based in the Manawatu township of Feilding the one day sprint of nine special stages includes roads that often dashed the hopes of one time championship contenders. Starting from the Manfeild race circuit 8:30am Saturday the cars head north toward Beaconsfield and on to Pakihikura Road. At 26.64km it is the longest special stage of the day and is likely to set the theme of who is favoured to win.
Then utilising double-run Londons Ford, Utuwai and Tunipo roads the journey breaks in Apiti for a 30 minute service break. Repeating the loop in the early afternoon they return for a 40 minute service before tackling the remaining two stages. Starting with the 24.11km Ridge Rd – regularly run as the ‘sting in the tail’ this year it will be followed by the 7.97km McBeth road stage, on the outskirts of Kimbolton. The nominated ‘power stage’ it offers an additional monetary and point scoring opportunity for the championship competitors.
Returning to Feilding the day concludes with a ceremonial finish in the town square from 3:55pm.
Absent from the line-up of 23 competitors will be current points leaders Hayden Paddon and John Kennard, who are instead in Europe contesting a precursor event to their 2013 World Rally Championship campaign. On 62 points, 26 behind Paddon are Masterton’s Richard and Sara Mason – defending title champions.
Having set fastest time at the preceding round’s (International Rally of Whangarei) power stage the Masons get first pick to decide the running order for the top-five cars. Decided early on the Saturday morning the five fastest championship contenders will progressively pick their position – and for the Mason’s it’s a chance to factor in weather influences.
“We’re really looking forward to the weekend. Essentially it’s a fresh event for the championship so its new roads – and it’s in the middle of winter so conditions will be different. The roads – like most of the lower North Island, are twisty and technical in style – and I enjoy that. They are roads I can really get stuck in to - particularly Ridge Road. It is a real challenge and one you can get your teeth in to,” said Mason, driver of the BNT Subaru STI.
“It’s a disappointment Hayden (Paddon) won’t be there as I felt the battle was getting closer between us, so while we’ll get some ground on him I’m sure we’ll see him later in the season as he tries to get some points back.”
Arch rival and Mitsubishi brand representative Chris West is among a slim few who have contested the event previously when it was a championship round. Setting the outright record for the Ridge Rd stage in 2001 in his Group N specification car, its shorter distance for 2013 gives Timaru based Chris West a new goal.
“That’s the year we lost out on the Group N part of the championship to Deborah Kibble,” mused West.
“It’s a stage that rewards technical drivers over those with lots of horsepower.”
Co-driven by Palmerston North’s Chris Cobham, West says he’s looking forward to getting back on to the Manawatu roads: “The event itself was always fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed the roads and from memory they had a reasonable amount of gravel and so were challenging – definitely drivers’ roads so to speak.
“Our team has worked hard to get past our gremlins of the first two rounds. They’ve been found and dealt with so now we need to put ourselves back in to championship contention. Although Richard (Mason) is going to be hard to beat, even though we are running our Simms Lancer Evo X in R4 specification similar to his he’s a lot more familiar with the conditions in that area.”
Ahead of West in the standings, Nelson’s Ben Hunt arrives in the Manawatu having never contested the event and will be further advantaged by getting to pick second best start order for his Subaru STI.
Also making a first-time start will be Christchurch’s Matt Jansen in his Subaru STI while Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour intends on a full pace assault in her new generation Suzuki Swift. Close to unveiling his new generation Peugeot, Coromandel’s Alex Kelsey will instead run his Challenge backed Subaru STI.
Leading two-wheel-drive competitor is Christchurch’s Josh Marston, who has edged ahead in a hammer and tong battle with Tauranga’s Phil Campbell - the pair using identical Ford Fiesta R2 specification cars.
Broken in to three competitive categories, the Super Rally supported by Auto Finance Direct group combines modern two and four-wheel-drive cars while the BNT Historic Rally group is for yesteryear cars. They both contest the full championship while the Gull Rally Challenge field is a feeder class for casual exponents with suitably compliant competition vehicles.
Leading the Gull Rally Challenge is Te Aroha based Graham Featherstone (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7) while BNT Historic leader Jeff Judd (Christchurch, Ford Escort) has already amassed enough points to force defending champion Marcus van Klink (Kaiapoi, Mazda RX7) in to throwing it all on the line to catch-up.
While many of the younger contenders will be tested by the roads for the first time, firmly cemented on the entry list is Palmerston North based businessman Brian Green – whose corporation backs the six round championship series.
A regular competitor when the event rose to fame with its midnight start and journey through to late the following afternoon, Green became a regular winner. He and co-driver Fleur Pedersen (Hawke’s Bay) will start this year’s edition in the latest specification Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X.
Coverage of the event will air on TV3’s CRC Motorsport show, Sunday 7 July from 4pm.
News and information about the championship – including driver profiles and team news – can be found on the website www.nzrallychampionship.co.nz, or follow New Zealand Rally Championship on Facebook.