Arguably the strongest ever field for a non-international New Zealand rally will contest the Stadium Finance Rally South Canterbury on Saturday.
Serving as a round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship for just the third time and first since 1984, Rally South Canterbury promises to be one of the most eagerly contested events in recent times.
WRC star Hayden Paddon headlines the 96-strong field as he showcases his talents on the roads he grew up on, learning his trade as a youngster.
Joining Paddon in the category one battle are three Australian-based drivers – Nathan Quinn, Richie Dalton and Brendan Reeves – while reigning NZRC champion Andrew Hawkeswood makes his first appearance of the season in his Force Motorsport Mazda.
Quinn will run an old car of Paddon’s – a Mitsubishi Evo 8 – while Dalton and co-driver Dale Moscatt have recovered from injuries sustained in their Whangarei crash in May to take their place in the Shamrock Ford Fiesta Proto.
Two-time Rally Coromandel winner Reeves will look to take the fight to his good mate and Hyundai colleague Paddon, driving another Force Motorsport Mazda.
Championship contenders Ben Hunt and Tony Rawstorn will look to bounce back after a mechanical failure in their Subaru at Rally Canterbury while Matt and Nicole Summerfield will also be eager for an improved showing.
Rally Canterbury winners Josh Marston and Andrew Graves should be a serious contender again while Holden Barina teammates Greg Murphy and Mark Leonard also found themselves in the battle at the front in the Canterbury forests.
Emma Gilmour will be searching for a bounce back to early season form alongside Anthony McLoughlin in her Suzuki while star rookie Raana Horan will have plenty of eyes on him this week after his impressive campaign thus far.
Local driver Darren Galbraith returns to the championship alongside co-driver Rocky Hudson and the pair should not be discounted given their outright pace and local knowledge.
A strong field of class two front wheel drive competitors will go at it on the South Canterbury roads. Dylan Thomson and Amy Hudson will look to celebrate confirmation of their 2019 plans this week by making it four-straight wins in the class. Mike Sheehan and Glenn Goldring, brother/sister combination of Robbie and Amy Stokes, David Taylor and Jared Hudson and the Amy Keighley and Zoe Jones partnership will provide competition.
The Honda Civic of Dave Strong and Bruce McKenzie will battle the Ford Escort of Wayne Pittams and Chris Davison in the class 3 2WD category.
A fierce championship fight between John Silcock and Grant Marra’s Mazda RX7 and the Ford Escort of Regan Ross and Samantha Gray continues in the class four historic 2WD category. Ross has proven to have more outright pace so far this season but Silcock’s consistency has earned him a championship lead.
In the Gull Rally Challenge 4WD class Clint Cunningham and Raymond Bennett will look to continue their good form in the Ford Fiesta Proto while Richard Bateman and Jordyn Smith loom as their biggest threats. Dave and Emma Quantock shouldn’t be discounted in the Mitsubishi EVO 8 while Garet and Gemma Thomas, John Giltrap and Paul Millar and the New Caledonian crew of Eugene Creugnet and Philippe Delrieu will also be contenders.
A strong battle will take place in the Gull Rally Challenge 2WD category as well with the Mazda RX8 of Marcus van Klink and Dave Neill looking to hold on to their championship lead. Veteran driver Deane Buist and co-driver Karl Celeste will push the Mazda combo hard while Graeme Coey and Tony Witheridge stole the win in Canterbury last start.
The Stadium Finance Group A challenge sees the return of Tony Gosling and Blair Read’s exquisitely-liveried Subaru Legacy for the first time since Rally Otago in April. Matt Wright and Ben Trevelyan’s Subaru, the Mo-Bros Mitsubishi of Matt and Karl Adams, Darren Keen and Sarah Faulkner’s Mitsubishi and the Subaru Impreza of Daniel Alexander and Chris Gracie will challenge them for the win.
A total of 11 different special stages across 195km of competition awaits drivers on the one-day event in what is the fourth round of six in this year’s championship.
The 2018 New Zealand Rally Championship is proudly supported by Brian Green Property Group, Gull New Zealand, Dunlop New Zealand, Hella New Zealand and Stadium Finance