Championship points leader Graham Featherstone will lead the field into the iconic Ashley Forest this weekend. The Te Aroha Mitsubishi driver leads the 2017 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship fuelled by Gull and Driven by Dunlop as teams head to the third round of the series, the Lone Star Rally of Canterbury. With winter conditions including the strong possibility of ice and snow, along with two night stages, the event is a true challenge for the NZRC teams.
Speed and consistency at the opening two rounds of the series has Featherstone and co-driver Dave Devonport holding a slender two points lead over the Rangiora borther and sister team of Matt and Nicole Summerfield. The local duo hold the home advantage for this weekends contest but must overcome a dogged run at their home event which they have failed to finish for the past four years.
Much interest surrounds the potential of Auckland’s Dylan Turner and co-driver Malcolm Read who sit third in the championship standings. An impressive debut run of their Audi S1 AP4 at round two placing second overall at Rally Whangarei has the Audi as a genuine championship contender. Behind Turner is one of the suprise performers of the opening two rounds, Balclutha’s Rhys Garnder who holds fourth. Driving the ex-Hawkeswood Mazda 2 AP4+ Garnder is sure to be more at home on the Canterbury stages.
Just outside the top five in the championship standings are a group of drivers who have the potential to challenge for victory at Lone Star Rally Canterbury. Aucklands Andrew Hawkeswood and co-driver Jeff Cress were second at the opening round and a pacesetter at round two before mechanical issues halted their run in the Mazda 2 AP4+. Mitsubishi drivers Sloan Cox (Rotorua) with Sarah Coatsworth alongside and Darren Galbraith (Timaru) and Rocky Hudson have both won stages, while the 2016 Canterbury Rally winner Emma Gilmour will be looking to repeat that form and end a disastrous run in her Suzkui Swift which has seen her fail to finish an event in 12 months.
The two car Holden Barina AP4 Team will also be in action with Greg Murphy and co-driver Mark Leonard looking forward to competing at an event they have prior experience on the stages.
Missing from the line-up will be defending NZRC Champion David Holder as young Cantabrian Job Quantock steps into the Hyundai NZ i20 AP4+ for the first time. The 22 year old earned the drive in two rounds of the 2017 NZRC as the inaugural winner of the Hyundai NZ Young Driver Scholarship.
Equally as tough will be the class battles. The NZRC two-wheel drive class for front-wheel drive cars up to two-litres sees three of the five competitors, Ari Pettigrew/David Calder (Ford Fiesta), Chris McLean/Sarah Brennan (Ford Fiesta) and Robbie and Amy Stokes (Toyota Levin), all competing on home soil. However they will be expecting a strong battle with class points leader Dylan Thomson/Amy Hudson and round two winner Max Tregilgas/Glenn Goldring, both also in Ford Fiesta’s.
The open two-wheel drive class sees Marcus van Klink and Dave Neill’s Mazda RX-8 triple rotor take on the modern-engined Ford Escort of Anthony Jones/Tanya Gwynne and Jeff Ward/Murray O’Neill’s Hillman Hunter V8. The Historic class is set for a classic Mazda Rotary versus Ford BDA battle between joint points leaders Tony Gosling/Blair Read (Ford Escort) and John Silcock/Richard Atkinson (Mazda RX-7). Adding extra spice is the return of round one winners Regan Ross and Lisa Hudson (Ford Escort. However should any of them falter, Paul Fraser/Noel Moloney (Ford Escort), Graeme Coey/Tony Witheridge and Mike and Helen Cameron (Both Mitsubishi Lancers) will be ready to strike.
The Gull Rally Challenge sees a strong field of 13 cars taking on the event, led by Adam Bligh/Ric Chalmers with Keith Anderson/Samantha Gray and Richard Bateman/Jordyn Smith sure to chase their heels hard, while a large chasing pack will make for intense competition. Like-wise in the two-wheel drive Gull Rally Challenge, where Deane Buist/Karl Celeste start as favourite on their home event, but will face stiff competition from Daniel Alexander/Richard Burnett, David Taylor/Pania Huntley and Christopher Gracie/Vivian Eden.
Leaving Rangiora at 8.30am on Sunday morning, the Lone Star Rally of Canterbury will tackle 195 kilometres of high-speed special stages through the Ashely and Okuku Forests, before returning to the rally finish at Lone Star in manchester Street, Christchurch, from 7pm.