2002 Rally Championship Preview
By: Lance Hastie www.car.co.nz
With the start of the 2002 Parker Enzed National Rally Championship, its time for all New Zealand rally fans to dust off their winter woollies and stake a claim on their local vantage point in anticipation for some fierce action.
After re-grouping and planning for 2002, the Parker Enzed National Rally Championship drivers sense the ticking of the clock as it counts down to the start of the 2002 season - with the Southern Motor Court Rally of Otago on May the 10th.
Returning to have a crack at claiming the title for the third year in succession, top seed - Bruce Herbert, returns with the Subaru Impreza that he took to the top after being eligible to score points in only three of the five rounds.
Runner up in 2001 - was fellow Palmerston North driver and past back-to-back Rally Champion - Geof Argyle. Argyle returns again in a Mitsubishi, but this year swaps the Ralliart EVO 7 for an EVO 6.5 with major backing from Parker Enzed.
Joining Herbert in the Subaru camp is Auckland's Andrew Hawkeswood. In doubt for 2002, Hawkeswood has had to return to full fitness after suffering a frightening back injury in a Speedway accident. Running in Group A, the Hawkeswood Impreza is sure to be competitive as the car is a known competitive package, but it is unknown how long it will take for Hawkeswood to dial his driving style to make the most of the Impreza's handling.
Also making a return in 2002 after being placed in doubt is Todd Bawden. Well known for his driving to the edge, and quite often over it - Bawden returns with the EVO 6 package, but this time will be taking instructions from new co-driver Damon McLachlan, also from Auckland.
Past Group N Champion and outright winner of the 2001 Otago Rally, Timaru's Chris West also returns in his Subaru Impreza. Again targeting the Group N trophy that was scooped up by Deborah Kibble, West is fair fizzing to get back behind the wheel. "We've been given great support by Subaru New Zealand and have been fortunate to compliment that with the backing of Possum Bourne Motorsport - the development work they have done is just fantastic", added West.
"We've been able to benefit greatly from the lessons learned by the Subaru's in the Australian Rally Championship", says West. "With all the information we have gathered we believe we should be more competitive than ever this year."
Returning as defending Group N Champion, Wellington's Deborah Kibble is again taking on the boys after beating them at their own game in 2001. New Zealand's first female champion returns with the EVO 6 that has seen Kibble surge forward in driving style and confidence. Co-driven by husband Jamie Kibble, the Wellington team have proven to many that it doesn't take a big budget to take the championship, but that a big heart and lots of faith can do equally as well.
2001 Group A Champion was Wellington's Lewis Scott. The ever-consistent results of Scott had him in real contention for the outright championship title, enjoying a points buffer for the majority of the season, it wasn't until late in the 2001 Championship that his lead was coming under threat by the likes of Argyle and Herbert.
One driver to switch from Group N to Group A in 2002 is the Waiuku Circus. Stumpy Holmes returns with the backing of a Mitsubishi Ralliart EVO 7. The Group A machine has Holmes smiling as he feels there is a lot of potential to be extracted by the only EVO 7 in the Championship.
Again contested over five rounds, the first kicks off on May 10 with the Southern Motorcourt Rally of Otago. Followed three weeks later by the Ascot Park Rally of Southland over Queens Birthday weekend.
Third round in the championship is the Parker Enzed International Rally of Rotorua - which is also a round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship. Starting on the 28th of June, the three-day event is the second largest in the championship calendar.
Penultimate round goes to the Hawkes Bay this year - starting Friday 26th of July.
Fifth and final round is the Propecia Rally of New Zealand - the longest event in the championship calendar and some eight weeks after the previous round. Kicking off on the 3rd of October - New Zealand's new Rally Champion will be known once the cars return on Sunday 6th of October.