Thursday, 20 December 2018

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Gold Rush Rally of Coromandel 2018

In 2014, the Coromandel Peninsula hosted a round of the official New Zealand Rally Championship for the first time. The New Zealand Rally Championship is the country’s premier nationwide rally championship and, as such, attracts New Zealand’s best drivers to compete for numerous prestigious MotorSport New Zealand-sanctioned rally championship titles.

While holding a rally of significance on the Peninsula was nothing new, it had been a long spell between drinks for the area as the last time the fast gravel roads and picturesque surroundings were used at the elite level, was way back in 1979 when the International Motorgard Rally of New Zealand took place.  

It took a while for New Zealand Rally officials to realise what the sport were missing out on. With the full backing and blessing of Thames Coromandel District Council, the timing in 2014 was perfect with the Gold Rush Rally of Coromandel (as the rally was named) being run out of the newly developed Mercury Bay Multisport Park in Whitianga where “Rally HQ” was based along with the service park for the rally cars.  

The rally was an instant hit with drivers and fans alike, with around 135 kilometers of special closed road stages held around Mercury Bay, including Ernslaw One forest roads, Castle Rock and the fast gravel twists and turns of the 309 and Tapu-Coroglen Roads. Organisers even threw in what turned out to be a popular and crowd entertaining short tarmac sprint stage in Joan Gaskell Drive in Whitianga.

Since the 2014 rally, the Coromandel has continued to host a round of the New Zealand Rally Championship and will do so this year again. The 2018 edition of the Gold Rush Rally of Coromandel will be held on 18 August. It will be the sixth and penultimate round in this year’s national series.  Organisers are expected to stay with the tried and true and run the rally over the same terrain as in past years as well as once again making full use of the Mercury Bay Multisport Park as Rally HQ and the service park. 

With Kiwi driver Hayden Paddon’s presence on the professional world rally scene in recent times and the positive publicity he is generating, the sport has grown in strength both in participant numbers and in new machinery facing the start line. The once popular and competitive older Fords, Subarus and Mitsubishis have slowly but surely given way to a new breed of 4WD rally car, Group  AP4, which is designed to make the sport more affordable and competitive in the Asia Pacific region.    

Along with the recent growth spurt in rally numbers, the ambitions and goals of many drivers have also increased. 

One such driver is Mt Maunganui-based winner of the overall New Zealand Rally Championship in 2016, Dave Holder. He is a past winner of the Gold Rush Rally of Coromandel and is expected to participate in this year’s rally for the fifth time in a row. “I love the Coromandel rally,” Holder says. “It has a relaxed but competitive nature, the locals are great and to hold a rally in such picturesque surroundings is a bit like being on a working holiday. I started rallying at age 21 and was hooked on the sport because of the challenge to combine driving at high speeds with an ever-changing landscape and the absolute buzz you get from it all. Rallying on the Coromandel is a great example of all of the above.”   

Holder, who grew up in Southland, is this year competing in the Junior World Rally Championship (JWRC) which is held across Europe and consists of five rounds.  Entry is by invitation only. Holder is the only Kiwi to ever compete in the JWRC. He follows the likes of Rod Millen (1980s), the late Possum Bourne (1990s) and Hayden Paddon onto the world rally stage. If passion, determination and enthusiasm are anything to be judged on, then Holder is sure to make the most of this opportunity.  

Holder is expected to make the Gold Rush of Coromandel Rally start line driving a JWRC-type 2WD car, rather than compete in the more competitive 4WD category. Regardless of what he is driving, he is sure to put his recent European experience to good use on the fast and technical Coromandel roads.    

Organisers and fans will be hoping Hayden Paddon (Hyundai i20 AP4) will be on show also and continue his march toward winning his fourth national title. Hot competition is expected to come from Auckland-based Ben Hunt, who has shown great consistency so far this season in his Subaru WRX STi, while the evergreen and popular Emma Gilmour (Suzuki Swift AP4) only has to beat past reliability issues and recent bad luck to make the podium. Others to hopefully make the start line and keeping everyone honest include Greg Murphy and Josh Marston (Holden Barina AP4), Matt Summerfield (Mitsubishi Mirage), Dylan Turner (Audi S1 AP4), Rhys Gardner (Mazda2 AP4), Bryan Stokes (Ford Fiesta AP4) and long-time rally campaigner Graham Featherstone (Mitsubishi Evo 7 ) from Te Aroha.

The 2018 edition of the Gold Rush Rally of Coromandel is sure to be a hit with locals as well as drawing a healthy fan base from other areas.  With a top-class field and some modern and immaculately prepared rally cars in action, it also promises to be the hardest fought Gold Rush Rally of Coromandel yet. 

LATEST WEEKLY ISSUE

ONLINE POLL

Should some form of capital gains tax be introduced in New Zealand?

The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.