NZ Rally Championship battles heats up in Otago
Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour plans to stamp her authority on this year’s Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship, powered by Brother, when the championship’s third round, Drivesouth Rally Otago, takes place in her home town this weekend.
But Gilmour will be facing significant challenges to her title bid from current championship leader Coromandel’s Alex Kelsey, defending champion Masterton’s Richard Mason and former champion Timaru’s Chris West as the 25 to 27 May event takes place on gravel roads around Dunedin city.
The event starts in Dunedin’s famous Octagon at 6:15 pm on Friday before
competitors head south for three special stages run in the dark before
completing eight competitive stages on Saturday and six on Sunday.
Favourite stages with all competitors include ‘Kuri Bush’, ‘Whare Flat’,
‘Macintosh Rd’, and ‘Waipori Gorge’.
“An event win is what we need to stamp some authority on our
championship title bid,” says Gilmour, dealer principal of local new car
dealership Gilmour Suzuki.
“Westy (Chris West) is fast on these roads and while he’s not featuring
at the top of the standings, he’s there to take points away from us all.
Richard Mason is going very fast as well, as too is Kingsley Thompson,
Alex Kelsey and Sloan Cox.
“It’s a very fast championship; you just have to be pushing it all the
time,” adds Gilmour. “Our car has a good base setup now but you always
have to keep working on what you can do to be faster each time – because
there will be someone there on your heels if you don’t.
“I always like the Otago rally – it always gets good crowds and of
course it’s local for me. Plus I’m looking forward to the night stages –
I think that will be a bit of fun.”
Mason, who won the second NZRC round, his home event in Wairarapa,
regards the Otago rally as quite different to other events in New
“The undulations in the roads, the crests and you run along ridge-tops
before dropping in to gullies. Roads in other areas tend to follow the
hillside rather than going up over the top of them – that makes Otago
quite interesting. Plus the road surface can be quite a mixture; it
could be really loose gravel or really hard – you don’t know until you
get there,” says the three-time Kiwi champion.
“I like the tighter roads, like Waipori Gorge (SS17, 13 km), the final stage of the rally, that’s a really challenging one.”
Mason retired from the first day of the season opener, Brother
International Rally of Whangarei, but his Wairarapa win means he heads
to Otago with a mere three point deficit to championship leader Kelsey.
Mason adds: “I’ve said earlier in the year the points system will reward
those chasing for good results – which is exactly what we have to do
and getting from second to first in the championship. We’re planning on
having the lead heading to Brother Rally New Zealand in June.”
Kelsey will start first on the road again as he did in Wairarapa. The
19-year-old competes in the open four-wheel-drive category in a Subaru
WRX which is built to different specifications to the Group N Subaru STI
rally cars that Mason and Gilmour use. This year, the overall
championship title can be won by any competitor registered for the
championship, regardless of the class of car they compete in. This makes
Kelsey eligible for the outright title in exactly the same way as
Mason, Gilmour, West and the whole NZRC field.
Heading to Otago, Kelsey has 51 points compared to Mason and Gilmour
closely placed with 48 and 47 points respectively. Christchurch’s Matt
Jansen is currently fourth in the overall NZRC drivers’ championship
standings with 33 points and Kerikeri’s Kingsley Thompson is fifth with
Chris West, another South Island favourite, is keen to get his
championship back on track. The Mitsubishi driver is languishing in
seventh place after being plagued by a fuel issue and other challenges
in the first two events. West says the team has been through the whole
system meticulously and believe the matter is properly solved.
“Aside from the disappointment at Wairarapa we’ve been really happy with
the pace and where we’re at. We’re confident we’ve got to the bottom of
an isolated fault that was eventually identified. Now we can go to
Otago and put on a good show. The motivation is there – so we’ll be
right. I just hope we get a result!” says West.
Also of note is the arrival of Palmerston North-based mechanical
engineer Tony McConachy as a ‘new entrant’ to the championship. Having
spent many years developing his Hayabusa-powered Toyota Starlet and
collecting numerous accolades with his spectacular driving style and
finishing positions, McConachy will contest the open two-wheel-drive
championship category in Otago.
“To be fair, both Marcus van Klink (historic category Mazda RX7,
Kaiapoi) and Dave Holder (open 2WD category Toyota Levin, Mt Maunganui)
are driving exceptionally well,” says McConachy. “I have a lot of
respect for Dave as he is a very good driver for such a young fella –
and he’s a neat guy too. Plus it’ll be good to run against the Ford
Fiesta boys – we all run at a very similar pace. There are roads that
suit their cars and there are roads that suit my little thing so it can
go either way.”
McConachy relishes the unique character of the roads that include many
blind brows: “The roads have a beautiful base and the turning crests are
relatively flowing as long as you respect them – it’s a very, very good
The Otago event is also famous for its classic car category. This year
the Stadium Cars/ Nichibo International Classic Rally of Otago field
includes Kiwi stars Hayden Paddon with co-driver John Kennard driving
the Stadium Cars-backed Ford Escort RS1800.
News and information about the championship – including driver profiles
and team news – can be found on the website
www.nzrallychampionship.co.nz, or follow New Zealand Rally Championship
Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship, powered by Brother
Overall drivers’ championship points heading into round three
Position, Driver, Hometown, Points
1, Alex Kelsey, Coromandel, 51
2, Richard Mason, Masterton, 48
3, Emma Gilmour, Dunedin, 47
4, Matt Jansen, Christchurch, 33
5, Kingsley Thompson, Kerikeri, 21