Hawkeswood in driver’s seat

By Catherine Pattison on Sat, 25 Nov 2017 | Latest News
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Auckland rally driver Andrew Hawkeswood is leading the New Zealand Rally Championship going into the final round in Tauranga this weekend. PHOTO: GEOFF RIDDER

The final round of the New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) will be a three-way fight for glory at Rally New Zealand this weekend.

It is the first time since 2001 that three drivers have a chance to win at this stage of the championship, with Aucklanders Andrew Hawkeswood and Ben Hunt and Rangiora's Matt Summerfield all in the running.

Hawkeswood and co-driver Jeff Cress (Mazda 2 AP4) have a slim 10-point advantage over Hunt and his co-driver Tony Rawstorn heading into the Tauranga-based round, and perhaps has more motivation than the other two contenders, having finished ‘‘too many times the bridesmaid'' in the NZRC.

Other commitments mean this is likely to be his last year contesting the full NZRC and he was ‘‘pretty stoked'' to be involved in such a close-fought final event.

‘‘I just hope it goes down to the last stage,'' he said.

The pressure to make that kind of nail-biting rally finish is on Hunt and Summerfield, who sits one point behind in third place, as they battle it out over 14 special stages covering 280km. Teams can score a possible 44 points over the weekend.

Subaru WRX STi driver Hunt, the 2015 champion, was cool and calm about his ambitions.

‘‘My main goal [for 2017] was to finish every rally and do every stage. We want to go there [Rally NZ] and finish for a start and try to do a repeat of Waitomo [the previous NZRC round, which he and Rawstorn won].''

For Summerfield a more aggressive approach was on the cards in his Subaru Impreza and he was anticipating a ‘‘pretty intense rally'' as he aimed to bring home his first NZRC title.

‘‘Our game plan is to just go out and try to win every stage,'' he said.

WRC driver Hayden Paddon will be competing in his New Zealand-based Hyundai i20, but is not in title contention, having only contested one other NZRC rally this season.

Dunedin's Emma Gilmour is looking forward to competing on the famed WRC Rally New Zealand roads in her Suzuki Swift AP4, as it has been five years since they were last used in national competition. A tough start to the season means she and co-driver Anthony McLoughlin are not in title contention but will be aiming for a podium finish this weekend.

Balclutha's Rhys Gardner had a strong start to his 2017 campaign in his new Mazda 2 AP4, but a roll-over at Rally Waitomo in October prompted a reassessment of priorities and he will sit out the final round to focus on his virtual reality driving simulation business.