20-year rally wait is over

Former New Zealand Rally Champion Andrew Hawkeswood, of Auckland, was the last winner of the...
Former New Zealand Rally Champion Andrew Hawkeswood, of Auckland, was the last winner of the Rally of Southland in 2004. Between June 21 and 22, 64 rally drivers are about to descend on the province’s rural roads when the Southern Lights Rally returns to the province for the first time in 20 years. PHOTO: EUAN CAMERON
Ripping around gravel roads at breakneck speed is what will be needed for one of the nation’s top rally drivers to take out the top prize of the Southern Lights Rally later this month.

The world’s southern-most championship rally will cover 157km of gravel roads after a ceremonial start at Transport World in Invercargill on Friday evening.

It will be the first time in about 20 years the rally has been in Southland.

Rally organiser Paul Fallon said rallies of this magnitude required a lot of manpower to make them work.

And while the event had a lot of support and interest from people in the sector, there was not always sufficient support to make it happen, he said.

"It’s a massive undertaking to be able to run a rally event — it requires about 130 volunteers.

"It also requires the support of the business community, local councils, roading authorities and, most importantly, we’ve got to have support of the local residents, because we’re running on the residents’ roads — to get that support is a massive job."

This year the rally had "massive" support from the Southland Sports Car Club, South Otago Car Club and the Eastern Southland Club.

Mr Fallon said organisers were expecting about 60 entries for the revived event, and were happy to receive 64, which included some of the nation’s top drivers.

He expected the province would have its economy boosted by the drivers, co-drivers, crew, supporters and national media pack coming into the city.

Multiple trained race officials also came from outside the province to monitor the race.

"With the event itself it’s probably generating somewhere between 800 to 1000 people on the ground associated to the event.

"It’s good for the region to be able to have that amount of people come into the town for an event that’s not arena-based."

Transport World marketing and sales manager Hannah Whyte said they were rapt to see the event back in Invercargill after such a long time.

Mr Fallon said the first driver would go over the start ramp at Transport World at 5pm on Friday to take on the 11.8km course of Stage 1 at Pebbly Hills. Cars were then locked up for the evening before their 5.35am start on Saturday morning.

The sport was both mentally and physically demanding and critical time gains or losses could happen quickly with even small changes.

"We're anticipating on that one stage is going to sort out how that event's going to unfold."

After the Friday launch, the rest of the action would happen around Winton, Tutatapere with the final stage being held at Teretonga Park from 4.25pm, Ms Whyte said.

An autograph session will also be held in the Invercargill CBD on Friday.

 - By Toni McDonald