Tweaking done, Dunedin duo set for series

By Catherine Pattison on Sat, 7 Apr 2018 | Rally | Rallying
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Local heroine Emma Gilmour, of Dunedin, loves displaying what her Suzuki Swift Maxi can do to the home-town crowds of the Drivesouth International Otago Rally. PHOTO: GEOFF RIDDER

Rhys Gardner had a blazing start to the 2017 season in his Mazda, powering to an impressive third place in the first round of the New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC).

From there he rode the roller coaster of good and bad fortune as he attempted to get to grips with his technically-tricky AP4 machine.

Leading into next weekend's rally, Gardner has scouted the country for specialists who can help him to get the best out of his Mazda.

``These cars are so technical. There's people out there that have been working with the different components for years and years. It seems silly not to tap into that,'' Gardner said.

One new contact has been Rex Macpherson, who used to work on the late Possum Bourne's rally cars. He has channelled his considerable knowledge into helping Gardner with the Mazda's gearbox and general set-up.

``He's just one of those guys who has been around the sport for so long. In rallying you just never stop learning,'' Gardner said.

Emma Gilmour has also had some extra tuition. She and long-term Australian co-driver Anthony McLoughlin have been refining their pace note system over the past few months.

``Teaming up for our fourth consecutive season in the Suzuki, we're in a great position to build on that rapport and experience, using our shared professional focus to make our notes really work to our advantage,'' she said.

Gardner is also looking for continuity in his passenger seat after using several different navigators last season and has enlisted Christchurch's David Calder.

``He's already come in and changed a lot of my pace note systems, which is awesome. It's like starting again. I've been in this sport for 10 years and the last couple of months working with David and other specialists, every day is a school day.''

Gilmour's search for an advantage has seen her put her Suzuki through a weight-loss programme. It runs a 1600cc engine, which is smaller than many of the more powerful 1800cc- plus engines in the cars she competes against, meaning she needs to make gains in other areas.

``The team has been through the Suzuki and adapted areas, such as the under-body protection and rear windows, to more weight-efficient materials.

``We are not looking for massive gains, but all the little things we can adjust just add up to the total package being a bit lighter. We are looking to improve on our consistency from last year and will be targeting being on the podium at each of the six rounds this season,'' Gilmour said.

Gardner has gone one further _ putting himself on a diet and embarking on some mental training after realising what he was eating last year was causing him to fatigue quickly.

``As well as testing the car, I've been testing different foods for focus and energy that will create that calm, focused state where speed comes naturally,'' Gardner said. The Dunedin pair will be trading times with some serious foes on the 17-stage Otago Rally.

The NZRC component is headed by World Rally Championship driver Hayden Paddon in his New Zealand-based Hyundai i20 AP4+. Paddon's crew has been hard at work over the off- season ensuring the Hyundai is in prime condition with a ground-up rebuild. They have devoted some development time to the car's transmission, suspension and steering systems to improve the drive and reliability.

Defending champion Andrew Hawkeswood, of Auckland, is a notable absentee due to business commitments, but championship runner-up Matt Summerfield, of Rangiora, will be back, this time in a new Mitsubishi Mirage. Rounding out the top competitors are 2015 winner Ben Hunt, of Auckland, and Australia-based Irishman Richie Dalton, who is campaigning a Ford Fiesta Proto.

The local seeds to keep an eye on in the Otago International Classic Rally are Derek Ayson in his Ford Escort Mk 2, complete with a new engine, Richie Chadwick in his trusty Toyota Corolla, and veteran Allan Dippie driving a Porsche 911. Included as part of the two-day Otago Rally are the Leviathan Hotel Otago Allcomers Rally and the newly-introduced Otago 4WD Classic Rally.