New Zealand Rally champion David Holder, of Mount Maunganui, headlines a bumper field of 132 cars in this year's Drivesouth International Otago Rally, to be held on April 8 and 9.
He is driving the factory-backed Hyundai i20 AP4+ that World Rally Championship (WRC) star Hayden Paddon drove to victory in last year's event. It is one of six new-breed AP4 cars in the field, along with new-generation cars from Ford, Mitsubishi and VW.
Fifty-three cars (nine of which are included in the classic field) have registered for the opening round of the New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC), with a further 36 cars entered in the concurrent Allcomers Rally.
In addition, a strong field of 52 cars will start the popular International Otago Classic Rally, led out by former WRC driver and last year's classic event winner, Markko Martin from Estonia.
Rally spokesman Roger Oakley said the entries are up 30% on previous record years (2016 and 2011).
‘‘It signals a sudden increase in the sport,'' he said.
He credited the ‘‘Hayden [Paddon] factor, the AP4 class for coming up with rules that the competitors like and a general improvement in the economy''.
Our rally roads could take a bow as well, he added.
‘‘There is a growing realisation that New Zealand is a bit of a Mecca for rallying and a growing appreciation for what we have got here.''
The NZRC event will be closely fought out with a host of top-line drivers fancying their chances of taking victory in the opening round of the six-round series.
Former champion Ben Hunt is back in his Subaru WRX STI, while Matt Summerfield (Subaru), Sloan Cox (Mitsubishi) and Graham Featherstone (Mitsubishi) will all be in with a chance. Add to that the AP4 cars of Dunedin driver Emma Gilmour (Suzuki), Andrew Hawkeswood (Mazda), Glenn Inkster (Skoda), and new cars for Josh Marston (factory- backed Holden Barina) and Carl Davies in a Toyota Yaris, and picking a winner won't be easy.
International entries from Australian Richie Dalton (Ford Fiesta) and Irishman Frank Kelly (Ford Escort) will also provide additional depth to the field.
The classic rally entry list contains some impressively fast drivers. Along with Martin, four-time Australian Rally champion Simon Evans will contest the rally for the first time, driving a Datsun Stanza, while regular front- runners Regan Ross (Escort), Gore's Derek Ayson (Escort), and Marcus van Klink (Mazda) will all be pushing hard for a top spot.
The classic field includes eight Australian drivers as the event continues to attract a strong following from across the Tasman. A large contingent of Australian spectators is also expected to make the trek to Dunedin to watch the rally this year.
Starting in the Octagon in Dunedin on Friday, April 7, the event features 14 special stages over the following two days, with a competitive distance of nearly 285km.
The rally once again includes famous stages such as Waipori Gorge, Whare Flat, McIntosh Road and Kuri Bush, as well as the popular tarmac stage around the streets of Dunedin on the Saturday afternoon.
● A dinner with the rally stars function will be held at the Southern Cross Hotel (rally headquarters) on Thursday, April 6, from 6.45pm. Cost is $60 per head, which includes a three-course meal. To book, email conference.southerncross@ scenichotels.co.nz before Monday, April
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