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Strong field for rally series opener


Defending NZ Champion Sam Murray heads the seeding list in the Trusthouse Racetech Rally Wairarapa

The rally opens the 2008 Vantage Aluminium Joinery national rally championship. And the Subaru Impreza WRX STi driver isn’t looking forward to sweeping gravel from the rally special stages. The dry summer and drier autumn have left the gravel roads hard-packed and slippery, though at least Murray won’t have to contend with the visibility-robbing dust his pursuers will face. Murray’s co-driver from 2007, Rob Ryan, has retired from rallying and has been replaced in the Manawatu Subaru by young Briton Andrew Roughead. Second seed and a favourite to win his fifth Wairarapa Rally is double champion Richard Mason and his co-driving wife
Sara, in a newly-built BNT WRX STi. Emma Gilmour has powered up her team for 2008, and will be co-driven in the Vantage Impreza WRX STi by the experienced navigator/driver, Jeff Judd. The 2004 New Zealand champion, Chris West, is running a full attack on this year’s title in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 backed by Mitsubishi dealer, with support from Donnithorne Simms. Also in a Lancer, is one of the hot favourites for the championship, South Canterbury driver Hayden Paddon. Paddon starred in last year’s series, and will run a brand-new left-hand  drive Lancer. Rotorua fastman Dean Sumner will field another Mitsubishi. He added greater tactical maturity to his raw speed last season and is another with a good shot at the title.

Subaru Imprezas will be fielded by Taranaki’s Brad Ayling, Cambridge-based Andre Meir, Whangarei 18-year-old Kirsty Nelson, Tauranga’s Callum McInnes and Foxton farmer Grant Barber. Rotorua 16-year-old Sloan Cox will run a Lancer, along with Masterton based Brett Martin, Auckland’s Mark Tapper, Hastings driver Stewart Taylor and Wellington’s Nathan Thomas. Expect Tapper to be ultra-fast, and Martin, Taylor and Thomas all showed strong pace and podium ability in 2007. Among the two-wheel drive cars are three entries in the Ford Fiesta Challenge – Chris Lange, Ben Jagger and Patrick Malley. Kiwi-2 front-wheel drive champion Dave Strong returns in his Honda Civic to be challenged by Kapiti’s former champion Aaron Cook in the ex-Strong Honda Jazz.  Christchurch’s Sean Gray will run a Mitsubishi Mirage. The rally will also include a section for Classic rally cars, and the opening round of the 2008 Rally Xtreme series. Cars in the national championship contest two heats – one on Saturday and on Sunday.
The overall winner will be decided by points drivers have amassed in each of the self-contained heats and by any bonus points they have accumulated. The Wairarapa Rally is the first of six championship rounds. There are 15 special stages totalling 255km.

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