This weekend’s much-anticipated Catlins Coast Rally will be like an NZRC round when you don’t actually have an NZRC.
The New Zealand Rally Championship was cancelled back in May, but with the country now up and running again, rally teams are keener than ever to hit the stages.
That’s blatantly evident in the Catlins Coast Rally’s 83-car field, headed by none other than NZ rally legend and former WRC star, Hayden Paddon.
Paddon and co-driver Samantha Gray will run as a course opening car and won’t be eligible for the win, but the sight of their Hyundai i20 AP4 in action on the stages will be enough to drag hundreds of rally fans out of their warm winter lounge rooms.
“Looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of the Hyundai NZ AP4 rally car this weekend,” Paddon said.
“We are competing as a test car at the front of the field (so not in the official results), but a great way to blow the cobwebs out and try some new development parts out in a rally environment.”
Behind Paddon will be a host of NZRC regulars, including the reigning national champion Ben Hunt. Interestingly, Hunt has been seeded 14th, but that’s on account of him driving a borrowed Subaru Impreza H6, rather than his regular championship winning machine.
Favourite for the win would be Matt Summerfield in his AP4 Mitsubishi Mirage, but he won’t have it easy over the 153 competitive kilometres of stages.
South Island speedster, Andrew Graves (main picture in 2016), will head the field away in his Lancer Evo 3, with former NZRC event winner, Josh Marston, likely to push for the win in his Holden Barina AP4.
Throw in Robbie Stokes (Fiesta AP4), Dean Bond (Lancer Evo 6.5) and the in form Scott Simpson in his Volkswagen Polo, and you have a top notch battle for the podium places.
Regular NZRC runners, Dean Buist (VW Golf) and Marcus van Klink (Mazda RX8) will likely set the winning pace in the two-wheel drive class.
The 2020 Catlins Coast Rally gets underway from 10am on Saturday.
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Further north, Jack Hawkeswood took a dominant victory in last weekend’s ABC Rallysprint in the Maramarua Forest, south of Auckland.
Driving his Mazda 2 AP4, Hawkeswood had the fastest time over the 9km course and led home the Lancer Evo 9 of Matt Jensen by nearly nine seconds.
In third place was the Lancer Evo 7 of Graham Featherstone, while another Evo 9, driving by Haydn MacKenzie, was fourth.
Charlie Evans rounded out the top five in his Mazda RX7 to be the first two-wheel drive car home.
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The Mainland Rally Series has a new naming rights sponsor for the remaining rounds in 2020, with MA Media signing on.
MA Media began their involvement in rallying as the videographer for WRC star Hayden Paddon.
“The organisers are confident the coverage of the MA Media Ltd Mainland Rally Series will be of an exceptionally high quality and encourage business owners to support MA Media Ltd for all their commercial media requirements,” series spokesman, Leigh Marston, said.
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There’s been a further shuffling of the deck chairs in the WRC. The date for the Rally of Turkey has move back a week, paving the way for Belgium’s Ypres Rally to be slotted into the calendar in a jam-packed season finish.
In what remains an evolving situation due to the COVID-19 pandemi, the switch means the event, round five of the championship, will be held two weeks after Rally Estonia (4 – 6 September) which restarts the WRC season following lockdown.
There has been no further word on the 2021 calendar from the FIA, with New Zealand still waiting to see if they are one of the events to be added.
So far, nine rallies have been listed on the 2021 WRC calendar, including Rally Australia.