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Eighty-eight contenders will line up for the latest deep South thriller, but seasoned Balclutha driver Bond is seeking to take it slow and steady.
After last-minute alterations to his Mitsubishi Evo 6.5's front differential rendered the Tommi Makinen classic "horrible" to handle last year, Bond crashed out in stage 3.
Having won the event in 2009, 2011 and 2015, he did not enter in 2016 and 2017, perhaps leaving him rustier than expected.
"Last year, we had two or three close calls even before we went off. I'd taken the front diff out before the event and made changes and after that it had horrible steer. Re-watching the video, my driving was terrible - I just didn't have my head in the game. However, I'm ready for this year. I'm going to ease my way into it and try and get faster as the day goes on. I want to be fast, clean and tidy and take no risks."
Spending most of the intervening year doing repairs - mainly cosmetic, but costly - Bond said he had managed to give the Evo only a couple of recent runouts, at Circle Hill Rallysprint and the Reserve Road hill climb - latterly pipping Emma Gilmour for the win.
He said that helped confidence getting back in the saddle.
Bond was also looking forward to blooding a new co-driver.
"My cousin, Scott Milne, originally from Balclutha but now in Invercargill, is taking the other seat this weekend. He circuit-races a Mini, and has plenty of tarseal experience, but he won't have gone this fast on gravel before. It'll be something a bit different, and good to have him there."
Top seed is defending champion and four-time winner Andrew Graves, of Gore, in his venerable Mitsubishi Evo 3.
Matt Summerfield, of Christchurch, is at two in his Impreza WRX, and Kaiapoi driver Job Quantock is number three seed, in an Evo 8.
This year's event is also the fifth and final round of the Mainland Rally Series. Both the overall title and several of the classes are still wide open, giving an extra edge to Saturday's results.
The rally starts at 10am, at Owaka Motors, Campbell St, Owaka.