Weather could be the biggest challenge facing Andy Gillies and Nathan Pilcher as the duo aim to maintain their class lead in the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship at this weekend's South Canterbury Rally.
The pair - who are in their first full season together in the ex-Chris Paddon Commercial Hire NZ Toyota Levin - lead Category 5B in the points chase after three rounds of the 2019 championship.
This weekend's fourth round is based in Timaru, features gravel roads and includes some of the infamous old stages from New Zealand rallying history. Covering over 200km in one day, the event tests every team's endurance and stamina as well as speed. With temperatures dropping over the next few days and the threat of poor weather ever present, both Otago-based Gillies and Auckland-based Pilcher are regarding it as their toughest challenge together so far. It's the first time either have undertaken the rally as well.
"I think we are both hoping that we don’t get as much rain as we did at Canterbury but the threat of snow also brings an added challenge of not only keeping warm but also keeping it on the road," explained Gillies.
"I've done this rally before but it is new for Nathan. It's known for being hard and fast and a little bit like Otago with the attrition rate being the key factor on the end result. We know we want to make it to the finish and we will be reminding ourselves at the start that for us to continue our consistency we have to make it to the finish. The rally is not won on the first stage but can certainly be lost."
It's been a busy time for co-driver Pilcher between rallies, as he has been managing the crew for Collins Motorsport's North Island Endurance Series circuit racing campaign in their Ford Mustang. Jumping between codes has been a challenge in itself, but Pilcher says a calm approach to the rally weekends from both himself and Gillies is paying big dividends as they unlock the performance of their car.
"I think we both look forward to rally weekends as we both enjoy getting out there and doing it," he explained. "There is a sense of relief at the end of each stage. We are always trying to improve ourselves and more notably since I undertook doing the co-drivers academy we are paying a lot more attention to the recce and our notes.
"We have come forward in leaps and bounds this year but we are still finding the limits of the car. The car was built by Chris Paddon with a lot of knowledge and it has a lot of untapped potential as well that we are getting into each round. I think that every time Andy drives the Commercial Hire NZ Toyota Levin he gains more knowledge about what the car is going to do and how it reacts. Another season or two in this car will really allow us to get more comfortable in the car and become more consistent. We're all about taking it step by step."
The rally begins Saturday morning with stages throughout the day.
Gillies and Pilcher's Commercial Hire NZ Toyota Levin is also supported by ENZED, Total Lubricants, Wurth NZ, Wet&Forget, MG Minerals, Superfinishing NZ, Arrowtown Bakery, Base Contracting, Brian Scott Motors and Prestige Commercial Vehicles. After this weekend's South Canterbury Rally, the team head north again for the Rally Coromandel in August. The season then has a free September before concluding with Rally Waitomo in October.