Toyota Levin crew Andy Gillies and Nathan Pilcher are cautiously optimistic ahead of the Canterbury Rally as they look to challenge for the points lead in their class in this year’s Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship.
Gillies and Pilcher currently sit second in their class – Category 5B – after two rounds of the championship in Otago and Whangarei. It’s the duo’s first full season together after restoring the ex-Chris Paddon Toyota AE85 Levin with the help of the team’s title sponsor Commercial Hire NZ. Gillies has competed on the combination of country and forest roads before, but it’s the first time on the event for co-driver Pilcher.
“It’s been a couple of years since I competed in Canterbury last and I am expecting the roads to be good,” explained Gillies. “The forestry elements appear to be the main arterial routes in the forest which should mean they are well compacted but they may cut up easily and with a bit of rain it can become very slippery. So we’ll definitely have one eye on the weather as all the crews will of course.”
Pilcher says there are plenty of challenges for a navigator making their Canterbury debut, particularly the stages after dark.
“For me as a co-driver I think that the night stages are going to prove the biggest challenge as being towards the back of the field means we will spend a bit more time in the night so we will have to learn to work with it as best as we can,” he said. “Luckily the other competitors in our class are seeded around the same area on the road so the conditions should be similar for all of us.
“Having said all of that, we aimed to be consistent this season and it’s really paying off,” added Pilcher. “We only need to do this round and the final given the championship structure but we are taking the opportunity to compete in more rallies to grow as a team and get faster every time we get in the car. Each rally we have always reminded ourselves that it won’t be won in the first stage but can certainly be lost.
“We aren’t focused on being the fastest but more about being confident in the car and being faster against ourselves. That’s the strategy we have to get closer to the top and right now it’s working well for us.”
Gilles said the duo had surprised themselves with how they had gelled together in the first two events, commenting: “Our consistency has been our biggest surprise with two third placed finishes at the first two rounds. We are hoping to carry this on but it would also be nice to have a set of podium finishes eventually before end of the championship!
“We have also been surprised with our pace this championship compared to previous years but the change of car, me doing other events between rallies and the knowledge Nathan gained at this year’s Rally New Zealand Co-Drivers academy has bought the added speed to the results this year. It’s definitely a cautious game on for us ahead of the weekend and we’re looking forward to it immensely.”