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MSA Academy co-driver Phil Hall made the trip to New Zealand a worthwhile one when he guided New Zealand Rally Championship contender Rhys Gardner to sixth overall at the International Rally of Whangarei.

Hall was drafted in just weeks before the event and made the last minute trip to sit alongside Gardner as he bids to take the New Zealand domestic series honours in his potent Mazda 2 AP4.  After finishing third in the opening round of the series, Gardner had high hopes of another solid finish with Hall alongside.

The high profile Rally of Whangarei also formed the opening round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship which meant Hall would enjoy his first taste of the series in a four wheel drive machine. His previous experience came from the WRC qualifier, Rally Australia in a Fiesta alongside Aussie Rhys Pinter.

Hall, 28 from Mansfield was looking forward to the challenge of competing in a new country and a new partnership, and settled in nicely to his new surroundings on the pre-event recce and build up to the event. Two stages around the Pohe Island test on Friday night kicked off proceedings but the short super special stage was not indicative of the remaining two days in the fast and flowing New Zealand country side.

A further eight stages lay in wait during Saturday which took crews onto the more familiar mountainous gravel rounds as seen on the World Rally Championship events of years gone by.  The newly formed duo ended the second leg of the event in a confidence boosting seventh.

A shorter final day would offer a limited opportunity to progress but every effort was made to maintain their position and Hall guided the Kiwi across the finish ramp in an impressive sixth overall against some stiff competition. Perhaps more importantly, Hall had achieved the goal of bagging a decent NZ Rally Championship points haul for Gardner, taking fourth spot in the series.

“It’s been an amazing experience from start to finish and to come out here and challenge in the top ten of an Asia Pacific round is a real honour” said Hall. “ everything being a little last minute it all fell into place when it mattered and Rhys and I gelled really well. The pace out front its mega but the Mazda AP4 is the NZ equivalent to our R5 cars so it’s still an intense ride. I’d like to thank Rhys for the opportunity and it would be great to come back again in the future.”

Hall is now looking to complement his Whangarei outing with more events in NZ and Australia. He will return down under at the end of May for the National Capitol Rally alongside Rhys Pinter.

Image credit Geoff Ridder

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