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Hawkeswood holds impressive Otago Rally advantage

Jack Hawkeswood has driven his Toyota GR Yaris AP4 expertly to lead the Central Machine Hire Otago Rally overnight.

Jack Hawkeswood surprised many with his day one pace. Photo: Becky Ladbrook

Hawkeswood opened the rally by storming to the stage win on the ‘Black Rock’ test and would never look back through a clinical Saturday performance.

Clearly his best day in the New Zealand Rally Championship to date, Hawkeswood and new co-driver Jason Farmer never dropped below third on a gravel stage and took the opening two stage wins to set up his advantage.

Robbie Stokes and Sarah Brennan are second and were the crew who were the main challengers to the leaders all day.

The Ford Fiesta AP4 pairing are within striking distance of the rally lead, as is Indian driver, Gaurav Gill, competing only as part of the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship in Hayden Paddon’s Hyundai i20 N Rally2.

Gill and New Zealand co-driver Jared Hudson had a consistent day on the fast and smooth stages and are 30 seconds off the lead.

To win his first Asia-Pacific and New Zealand Rally Championship event this weekend, leader Hawkeswood will have to remain in top form tomorrow.

Two-time national champion, Ben Hunt, is in third overall despite a slow start.

Robbie Stokes put in an impressive drive to second overall after Day 1. Photo: Clare Whitten

The top seed is more than a minute back of the leader and will require a strong Sunday to secure maximum New Zealand Rally Championship points, something he was aiming for at the start of the weekend.

Mike Young is also in the fight for a top APRC result. A much-improved afternoon series of stages leaves him just 13.9 seconds off Hunt, and his fifth place has him just ahead of Todd Bawden and first-time R5 driver, Zeal Jones.

Jones lies an impressive fourth in the New Zealand Rally Championship component of the event.

Dunedin’s own Emma Gilmour started the event well, however, she hit a large hole, bending her front suspension on the second stage of the morning. She continued on to finish the day in tenth, but had to grapple with a car at less than 100% health.

Also in the top ten after a furious day of action is International Otago Classic Rally leader, Kris Meeke. Despite being in a classic Ford Escort RS1800, the former WRC driver is ahead of many more favourable four-wheel drive cars.

Canadian Brandon Semenuk was fast, but had an early puncture in his Subaru Impreza H6.

Also representing the classics is the Classic 4WD leader, Andrew Graves, who had an outstanding day in his Mitsubishi. 

Graves was battling with Canadian Brandon Semenuk for the lead in the class until the latter punctured and lost five minutes changing the tyre.

In the Allcomers Rally, it was a day of changing leaderboards. Although Caleb Macdonald and Larisa Biggar were on top at the first service and at the end of the day, the time in between saw them up and down.

Sean Haggarty and Mark McMillan both went ahead of the leaders after SS5, but only the latter would remain in contention.

Haggarty retired with mechanical failure, while McMillan is still in the hunt, with 26.5 seconds to make up on the leader.

Julien Lenglet, Gavin Feast and Ray Wilson completed the top five.

In all, 144 kilometres of competitive driving took place on Saturday with another 130 to be driven on Sunday.

The second day’s action begins at 8:15am and concludes with the world famous Kuri Bush stage.

Central Machine Hire Otago Rally | Standings after Leg One

1. Hawkeswood/Farmer, Toyota GR Yaris AP4, 1hr14m42.7s

2. Stokes/Brennan, Ford Fiesta AP4, +19.4s

3. Gill/Hudson, Hyundai i20 N Rally2, +30.6s

4. Hunt/Rawstorn, Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo, +1m11.5s

5. Young/Hudson, Toyota Yaris AP4, +1m25.4s

6. Bawden/Neill, Ford Fiesta Rally2, +2m44.2s

7. Jones/Jones, Skoda Fabia R5, +2m44.6s

8. Meeke/O’Sullivan, Ford Escort RS1800, +3m56.4s

9. Graves/Graves, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo III, +4m22.4s

10. Reid/Haggarty, Mitsubishi Mirage AP4, +4m55.3s

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