Balclutha has leading edge in rally

Two Balclutha drivers, both of whom are past winners, are the top seeds for Saturday's Catlins Coast Rally.

Rhys Gardner in a Mitsubishi EVO 9, the winner in 2012, will be the first car on the road while 2009 and 2011 victor Dean Bond in an EVO 6.5 is immediately behind him.

Both are sure to be two of the favourites for overall success this year after spoilt respective efforts in 2013. 

Richard Baddock of Kaiapoi, current leader of the Clearwater Painting Mainland Rally Championship, is seeded third in his Subaru Impreza WRX, with the versatile and fast Jeff Judd of Christchurch, in a similar car, next. 

Carter Strang of Wallacetown will start fifth in his EVO 6. Last year was Strang's first in a 4-wheel-drive car and he has already achieved some superb results including victory in the 2014 Allcomers section in the Rally Of Otago.

At six, Derek Ayson of Gore returns in the Nissan powered 2-wheel-drive Ford Escort that he used to defy the odds and place third overall in last year's event.

Next up is another driver from Kaiapoi, Marcus Van Klink, who finished an impressive fifth in his Toyota Corolla AE86 last year. 

Two more extremely quick 2-wheel-drive competitors, Bert Murray of Waimate (Mazda RX7) and Mike Verdoner of Balclutha (Ford Escort), follow with Steve Wellington of Dunedin (EVO 6 RS) completing the top ten.

The depth of talent in the field continues with the mercurial Barry Mills of Balclutha, fresh from fourth place last year in his elderly Hillman Avenger, eleventh seed.

David Clearwater of Christchurch is set to start at twelve ahead of another Wallacetown driver, Neville Krammer, who has achieved some remarkable results in an older Subaru Legacy RS. 

Gary Reynolds of Reefton, Scott Simpson of Oamaru and John Giltrap of Lincoln (Subaru WRX) are highly ranked drivers seeded from fourteen to sixteen.

There are several other entries of interest, including two Australians who have been tempted across the Tasman. 

Australian icon Ed Mulligan returns to drive a BMW 325 while Peter Leicht of New South Wales will steer his Isuzu Gemini. 

Veteran Trevor Crowe of Christchurch will pilot his unique Subaru WRX Ute again while Brent Rawstron of Christchurch brings his immaculate Ford Escort RS1800 south for the rally. 

Chris Woudenberg of Auckland, last seen in the south at the Race To The Sky events, will bring his Toyota Levin from Auckland while Phil Collins of Nelson comes equipped with an Audi Quattro Coupe.

Last year's winner, Andrew Graves of Gore, will not be driving this year, instead returning to his co-driving roots, alongside Highlands Motorsport Park owner, Tony Quinn, in a Ford Escort MK2 BDA. 

Jason Keach of Mosgiel, who starred in last year's Rankleburn Rally in his Subaru WRX, jets in from Africa where he works, especially for the event.

The class battles are sure to be torrid, particularly in Class B for 2-wheel-drive cars from 1301-1600cc where Craig Cormack of Gore, Kevin Laird of Alexandra, Kelly Todd of Palmerston and Phillip Terry of Invercargill in similar Toyota Levin's along with current Eastern Southland Car Club Champion Graham McRae of Gore are all in contention. 

Class A for the smaller 2-wheel-drive cars will also see a welcome return by two-time Catlins Rally winner Les Summerfield of Christchurch in a Toyota Starlet, previously driven by Australian WRC co-driver Glen MacNeall in the event.

Amy Hudson, the 13-year-old daughter of prominent rallying couple Rocky and Lisa Hudson, will make her co-driving debut with Summerfield after working as part of the event timing crew in past years.

Last year saw major changes to the route and those have been carried forward to this year's event. The crews will cover 161 kilometres of special stage competition with a further 82 kilometres of touring stages.

The first car leaves the start at Owaka Motors in Owaka at 9am on Saturday while the final stage again takes place at the extremely popular spectator friendly Riverside Reserve in Balclutha at 3.40pm that afternoon.

Support for the 2014 Catlins Coast Rally comes from the Rosebank Lodge, Vodafone, SouthRoads, Owaka Motors, Century/Yuasa Batteries and Catlins Cafe.

The rally is round four of the Clearwater Painting Mainland Rally Championship and round two of the Laird Motorsport Southern Rally Series.

The winner will take home the highly sought after Darryl Robinson Memorial Trophy while the first south Otago crew will earn the Kerry O'Donohue Memorial Trophy and the leading Otago Sports Car Club crew the Glen Shirlaw Memorial Trophy.

The Southland Times