Sheehan closes in on national title

Queenstown rally driver Mike Sheehan is one step closer to claiming his maiden national 2WD title after collecting maximum points at Saturday's Goldrush Rally of Coromandel.

Piloting a Ford Fiesta R2, with Glenn Goldring co-driving, Sheehan "thoroughly enjoyed the roads this year and felt we took a further step forward with our driving", he said.

His main class rival, Canterbury's Robbie Stokes, went out early in the eight-stage event with engine failure. Sheehan and Goldring now need only to complete the power stage at the final New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) round at Waitomo, on October 19, to win the FIA Group N 2WD championship.

Subaru driver Ben Hunt wrapped up the NZRC, with a round to spare. He and long-time co-driver Tony Rawstorn had to finish eighth or higher to secure a second career title - after achieving his first win in 2015 - and they claimed their fifth event victory this season, by 2.5sec.

"It's five from five, so ... we want to do what no other NZRC driver has been able to do before and carry off that sixth win at Waitomo next month," Hunt said.

Piloting an Audi S1 AP4, runners-up Pukekohe's Dylan Turner and co-driver Malcolm Read chased Hunt hard over the 135km of forestry and public roads, very nearly stealing the win on the final stage, when Hunt's car experienced fuel surges, slowing it dramatically.

Going into the penultimate round, Christchurch Holden Barina AP4 driver Josh Marston was the only competitor with a mathematical chance of overhauling Hunt. He and co-driver, Gore's Andrew Graves, finished in third, leaving him and Dylan Thomson, of Christchurch, in a Subaru Impreza STI, to battle for the final podium positions at the season-ending rally.

Dunedin's Emma Gilmour had a frustrating day but persevered to finish, despite a mechanical issue hampering her Suzuki Swift AP4.

 - Catherine Pattison

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