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This Friday’s first three stages of Rally Otago – run at night – offer an exciting new challenge for many of the 29 competitors registered to contest the opening round of the 2011 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship.

The DriveSouth Rally of Otago, running from 8 to 10 April, is the first round of this season’s New Zealand Rally Championship and, for many competitors, it’s the first time they’ve contested a night stage, says Peter (‘PJ’) Johnston, chairman of Rally New Zealand, the organisation which runs New Zealand’s premier rally series.

“This is the first time since 2001 years that the Otago Rally has included night stages and it’s fantastic to see the Otago organisers looking for ways to freshen an already highly-regarded event,” says Johnston.

The new premier rally season kicks off with competitors taking their cars across the start ramp in Dunedin’s Octagon at 7pm, where a big crowd is expected to enjoy the rally spectacle. With special banks of spotlights fitted to their car, each driver then tackles the three gravel night stages – around 50 km in total – south of the city.

On Saturday morning teams head south to Lawrence for five gravel stages, the longest of which is the challenging 45 km test through Berwick Forest. The day finishes with the traditional 2.5 km tarmac blast around Dunedin’s industrial area. Sunday’s six-stage schedule includes some of the event’s most popular stages – Kuri Bush, McIntosh Road, Waipori Gorge, and a repeat of the 45 km Berwick stage. Teams then journey 40 km back to Dunedin for the 3.55pm ceremonial finish at Dunedin railway station.

“The seeded entry list has 2010 Rally Otago winner and defending national champion Dean Sumner, from Rotorua, in the number one slot. Former NZRC champion and current production world championship driver Hayden Paddon, from Geraldine, is second on the road for the first day,” says Johnston.

Third seed, Dunedinite Emma Gilmour says: “It’s a typically challenging mix of Otago rally roads, some of which are fast, flowing and cresty, others that are more traditional forestry stages, and yet others which are very tight and twisty.”

Former national champions and Otago winners Chris West, from Christchurch, and Richard Mason, from Masterton, complete the top five seeds.

The New Zealand Rally Championship comprises four championship categories depending on the class of car being contested. Johnston explains: “Leading the field over the fast-flowing Otago roads are competitors in New Zealand’s premier production car class in Group N four-wheel-drive (4WD) and Super 2000 cars. These 14 competitors are vying for the coveted Gold Star championship award and include our new NZRC sponsor Brian Green. This class has also attracted an Australian entry from Queensland’s Matt van Tuinen, whose previous experience includes winning the 2009 Queensland Rally Championship, a feeder series to the Australian Rally Championship.”

Following the premier category cars through each special stage are four entrants from the two-wheel-drive (2WD) class, three competitors in the open 4WD class and ten in the increasingly-popular historic class, plus the remainder of the rally field.

Rally Otago is the first of five events on the 2011 NZRC calendar; the series then continues with Rally New Zealand based at Hampton Downs on 7 and 8 May, Rally Wairarapa on 28 to 29 May, the International Rally of Whangarei from 15 to 17 July and Rally Hawke’s Bay from 20 to 21 August.

A new-look NZRC website is now live – www.nzrallychampionship.co.nz – and fans can also find out more information about any of the events on the New Zealand Rally Championship Facebook page.








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