The first gravel road event on the 2020 North Island rally calendar has attracted a high-quality field of 52 crews.
The Driven Auto Sales Rally Bay of Plenty running out of Whakatane over the October 17-18 weekend features some of New Zealand’s best rally drivers as well as a strong turnout of Clubman and Novice teams.
The challenge awaiting the crews will be nine gravel road special stages totaling 123 km of competitive driving.
The top-seeded driver who will lead the field into the opening Stanley Rd special stage on the morning of Sunday October 18 is Tauranga’s Phil Campbell driving his Ford Fiesta AP4.
Among Campbell’s chief rivals will be the Skoda Fabia R5 duo of Aucklanders Raana Horan and Kingsley Jones (seeded second and eighth respectively) along with AP4 specification cars driven by Auckland’s Dylan Turner (Audi A1) and Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour (Suzuki Swift), who will start from the third and fourth seeding positions.
Horan, is the most recent winner of a NZ Rally Championship event, winning the final round of the 2019 series at Waitomo 12 months ago.
The rally also marks the return of Richard Mason, New Zealand’s only five-time national rally champion.
Seeded fifth Mason (Masterton), might be at the wheel of a Subaru Impreza that is the best part of 20 years old, but his skill and experience should make him a front runner.
There are a number of fast Mitsubishi Lancer Evo drivers in the mix including sixth seeded Todd Bawden (Hamilton), Hawke’s Bay drivers Grant Blackberry and Quentin Palmer (seeded ninth and 11th), Aucklander’s Matt
Jensen and Haydn Mackenzie (10th and 12th) and Whakatane’s top driver Jono Shapley (seeded 18th).
Mason leads the Subaru ranks with Tauranga’s Ben Thomasen and Phil Macquarie seeded seventh and 15th.
There is plenty of depth among the 2WD classes where the field is headed by multi-time NZ Rally Championship class champion Dave Strong (Auckland) in his highly modified Honda Jazz seeded at 13.
Ford Escort drivers Shane Murland (Kapiti Coast) and Anthony Jones (Cambridge), Toyota Corolla speedster Ian Wood (Rotorua) and Hamilton’s Charlie Evans (Mazda RX-7) are also likely front runners among the two-wheel-drive classes.
A quarter of the field (13 drivers) are classed as Novices who have started in fewer than three rallies. They get the chance to compete for separate Novice honours.
The rally is organised by Motorsport BOP Inc. with a National status permit issued by Motorsport New Zealand.
There is a waterfront ceremonial start for the Driven Auto Sales Rally Bay of Plenty from Whakatane’s Kakahoroa Drive carpark at 4.30pm on Saturday afternoon preceded by a Rally Show where the cars are on display for the public.
Crews make an early departure on Sunday morning with the opening stage scheduled to start at 7am. The first car is scheduled to finish in Whakatane at 3.30pm.
During the day the support crews get three chances to change tyres and complete maintenance work on the cars with service parks located at the Matata Rugby Grounds (used twice) and Pukehina School.