New route for NZRC penultimate round

By Catherine Pattison on Sat, 22 Jul 2017 | Rally | Rallying
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Rangiora’s Matt Summerfield is leading the national championship in this Subaru Impreza and is second in the Mainland Rally Championship, driving an older model Subaru Legacy. PHOTO: GEOFF RIDDER.

Although national rally competitors will be focused on August's Coromandel- based round, they will also be aware of the challenge awaiting them at the penultimate fifth round at Rally Waitomo.

Scheduled for October 14, the event marks the return of the New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) to the King Country for the first time in over a decade, providing a level playing field for drivers at the season's pointy end.

The recently-released rally itinerary features six special stages in the Ohura, Piopio and Waitomo areas, covering a competitive distance of 207km, with no repeated stages. Five of the special stages are more than 30km long and, with the shortest stage still a decent 16km, endurance and outright speed will be major factors in this rally.

Event director Chris Ramsay described the quality of the Waitomo stages as among the best in the country.

‘‘The gravel stages in the Waitomo district are a mix of tight and technical roads that will have drivers wrestling lock to lock, through to fast high-speed sections requiring lots of commitment,'' he said.

A feature stage will be the monster 45km Te Koroha, which doubles as the final and longest stage of the event.

‘‘This road has been used several times in Rally New Zealand in the past and was often the decider. The event definitely won't be over until drivers have crossed the finish line of this stage,'' Ramsay said.

A bumper field is expected for the Waitomo Rally as leading NZRC crews compete for points before the championship's final round in Tauranga on the weekend of November 25 and 26.

NZRC points leader after three rounds, Rangiora's Matt Summerfield has been keeping his reactions fresh over the long mid- season break by competing in a Mainland Rally Championship (MRC) in Nelson earlier this month.

The Nelson Rally was the fourth round of the MRC and Summerfield is second overall in his Subaru Legacy.

Subaru WRX STi driver Ben Hunt, competing in what was his home event before he shifted to Auckland, edged out Christchurch's Deane Buist by 59.3sec to record what would have been a considerable confidence boost after he finished second at the previous NZRC round in Canterbury after a run of DNFs in 2016.

Buist leads the Mainland Series and continues to give the 4WDs a run for their money in his 2WD Ford Escort Mk2.

This year marks 50 years of rallying in New Zealand and there are a number of initiatives planned across the year, including a celebratory dinner in Hamilton on August 19.

MotorSport New Zealand (MSNZ), with the assistance of the sport's Rally Advisory Commission, has created the New Zealand Rally Heritage Awards to recognise the competitors, event organisers, officials, media or sponsors who have consistently made an outstanding contribution over many years of rallying in New Zealand.

The first NZ Rally Heritage Award recipients will be announced at the anniversary rally dinner and will then be awarded on an annual basis at the MSNZ Awards Dinner from 2018 on.