Rhys Gardner heads the seedings for the MLT/Heartland Hotels/Ernslaw One Limited Rankleburn Rally in West Otago on Saturday.
The Balclutha driver will be at the wheel of the ex-Dean Sumner Mitsubishi EVO 9.5 he recently purchased, with regular co-driver Alex Ramsay, of Dunedin, alongside.
The event is the third and final round of the Laird Motorsport Southern Rally Series and also part of the Eastern Southland Car Club Rally Championship.
Gardner is the reigning southern series champion, a title he gained after finishing second at Rankleburn last year behind Andrew Graves, who is not competing this year.
A field of 29 entries has been received for the event based at Telford Tops Rd in the Rankleburn Forest, about one hour from Gore and 35 minutes from Balclutha.
The rally will comprise five special stages, totalling 80 kilometres of high-speed competition.
The second seeds are Carter Strang and Stewart Robbie, of Invercargill, in their EVO 6. Strang has made the transition to four-wheel-drive power this year and has shown impressive speed.
Derek Ayson, now of Gore, a former Mainland Series, Rally Xtreme and southern series champion, is seeded third. He won this event in 2011 in a Mitsubishi EVO 8 but suffered head gasket issues last year.
This season he has reverted to a two-wheel-drive Nissan-powered Ford Escort. He finished third at Catlins this year and was the first two-wheel-drive car home on that occasion. Heather Johnston, who normally co-drives for Deborah Kibble, will co-drive for Ayson.
The fourth seed is Neville Krammer, of Invercargill. Krammer, fourth in this event last year, has been a fast and consistent competitor over several seasons in an older Subaru Legacy. His wife, Hannah, will co-drive.
Barry Mills, of Balclutha, and co-driver Mark Allington are fresh off a fourth placing, their best finish at Catlins, in an older Hillman Avenger powered by a two-litre engine.
Next up is Gore's Jim McDonald in his EVO 5 with Michael Gunn alongside after a 10th placing at Catlins.
Shaun McMillan, of Invercargill, is the seventh seed in a similar car to Krammer's. Last year he finished fifth, one spot behind Krammer. Shaun's father Brian will perform the co-driving duties.
The top 10 is rounded out by Paul Goatley, of Balclutha, in a Nissan Bluebird turbo, multiple Eastern Southland Car Club champion Kevin Laird, now resident in Alexandra, and James Worker, of Wyndham, in a Ford Fiesta.
A number of new crews will line up for their rally debuts in the event.
Ayson is in a strong position in the overall southern series points for drivers ahead of the last round , while Michael Gunn, who will co-drive for McDonald, is well placed to grab enough points and take out the co-drivers' series.
McDonald leads the class D drivers' series while Ayson has a huge lead in class C with 64 points. The class B drivers' battle is led by Malcom Budd, of Dunedin, with 45 points.
Budd is not competing at Rankleburn, leaving Laird and Gore duo Craig Cormack and Graham McRae with the chance to score a good points haul to seal the series title.
Peter Fridd, of Oamaru, comes south to defend his healthy series lead in class A.
Gunn is in a strong position to take the class D co-drivers' title while in class C Graves and Gavin McDermott, both of whom have co-driven for Ayson during the season, share the points lead but Allington is poised to swoop in their absence because he is just five points behind.
Regan Little has the class B co-drivers' points lead but Jane Blair, Laird's co-driver, could snatch the title with a good points finish.
In class A, Cherie Fridd, wife and co-driver of Peter Fridd, has a good lead.
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