Eager drivers return for championship battle
A total of eight different rally winners will tackle the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship opener this weekend exactly 546 days since the last day of competition.
A field of 49 cars will take part in the Winmax Otago Rally starting with a ceremonial opening in downtown Dunedin on Friday, eagerly waiting to go rallying again after the entire 2020 season was lost to COVID-19.
Waitomo Rally – the final round of the 2019 championship – took place on 19 October 2019 and it represents 18 months of waiting for New Zealand’s leading rally drivers.
Former World Rally Championship star Hayden Paddon will start as the favourite to win at Otago and to win the championship, but he will be pushed hard by a range of competitors.
If Paddon were to win all five rounds of the 2021 championship he would draw level with Richard Mason for the most career NZRC wins on 28.
Ben Hunt – the 2019 champion – has 10 career wins to his name and will chase Paddon hard in his Hydraulink Subaru.
Veteran driver Todd Bawden returns to the championship fold in 2021. He will enter Otago in a Mitsubishi EVO 6 – the car he won the 2003 Otago Rally in – but is waiting for a new Ford Fiesta R5 to arrive from Europe.
His six career wins make him the third most successful driver in action this weekend.
Others to have tasted championship success are Matt Summerfield (Andrew Simms Mitsubishi) with three wins, Brian Green (Brian Green Property Group Mitsubishi) with three, while Emma Gilmour (Vantage Suzuki), Phil Campbell (Roofing Store Ford) and Josh Marston (RDL Holden) have each had a rally win.
In addition to that leading drivers that will look to break their duck at Otago include Dylan Turner (LJ Hooker Audi), Jack Hawkeswood (Diggabits Mazda), Kingsley Jones (Denture Clinic Skoda), Robbie Stokes (Stokes Motorsport Ford) and Regan Ross (Virgin White Ford).
Seven competitors will contest the FIA Group N 2WD class while another five will battle it out in the Open 2WD class.
There are eight competitors in the Historic 2WD category while seven drivers will compete in the Rally Challenge one-day event.
The ceremonial opening will take place in the Octagon in downtown Dunedin on Friday night. The competitors head off south of the city for six special stages before heading back to Dunedin for a short tarmac stage to complete Saturday’s schedule.
Sunday will see seven more stages before finishing at Brighton Beach Domain.