New rally car a big step up for Gardner

By Catherine Pattison on Sat, 1 Apr 2017 | Motorsport | Rally
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Balclutha's Rhys Gardner has upgraded to a Mazda 2 AP4 for the 2017 national rally season. PHOTO: BRUCE LI

While most of the local drivers have stuck to the familiar for their home event, Rhys Gardner has gone all-out on changes for next weekend's Drivesouth International Otago Rally.

Mounting a campaign in the stacked New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) field, driving his recently purchased Mazda 2 AP4, has the talented Balclutha driver abuzz.

‘‘New everything for 2017. It's a little daunting. It's a really big step up from an Evo,'' he says of his move away from his Mitsubishi and his decision to enlist up-and-coming Dunedin co-driver Cassidy Solomon for the season.

‘‘She's just got a huge passion for the sport really. You need that because it's challenging.''

Gardner's only problem with the Mazda, which was built by Andrew Hawkeswood's Force Motorsport in 2014, is a good problem to have: he is spoilt for choice when it comes to set-up.

‘‘The [AP4] cars have got so much adjustment on everything. You really have to learn how to tune them. It's a lot of car, that little thing'' he says.

So little, in fact, that he has to add 100kg of weight to meet the regulation requirement of 1350kg. Running a Mazda 2.3-litre engine in this mighty midget makes for some ‘‘really quick'' pace, and Gardner was thrilled to win the Eastern Southland Car Club's Chloris Pass Rallysprint last weekend after a close battle with Dunedin's Emma Gilmour.

She returns to contest the six-round 2017 NZRC with the same car (Suzuki Swift Maxi), team and sponsors on board. Seeing all her local supporters lining the roads always gives her a boost, Gilmour says.

‘‘The home crowds are always so supportive and it is great to see such a bumper entry list for the event this year.''

Over in the classic rally, Dunedin husband and wife team Richie and Rachel Chadwick will return to the event after missing it last year to have their baby Dylan (11 months). They will be competing in their trusty Toyota Corolla, which has had a successful 2016, winning Class B for 1301-1600cc cars in all of the four rallies they contested.

‘‘He's been driving really well,'' Rachel says.

They elect not to use pace notes and drive ‘‘blind'', so Rachel calls only the cautions and intersections.

The Chadwicks are grateful for support from the Hayden Paddon Rally Foundation, which has helped them to fund their passion for rallying this year.

Dunedin mates Allan Dippie and Paul Coghill will compete in class C in Dippie's classic Porsche 911 Carrera RS. He rolled it in the final stage, Kuri Bush, last year, so will no doubt be treating this famous test with respect when they roar through it again as stage 13 next Sunday.

Over in the allcomers rally, Dunedin's Mike Turfus is driving the hard-charging Mitsubishi Evo 7 that he steered to second in this category last year and 15th overall.