Young gun Robbie Stokes has committed to competing in November’s Battle of Jacks Ridge and will be one of the competition’s dark horses.
The 24-year old Cantabrian is one of a number of up-and-coming stars of New Zealand rallying and will contest the Auckland-based rally sprint in his Ford Fiesta AP4.
Stokes turned heads in 2019 with some phenomenal drives in a 2WD Ford Fiesta, beating some much more powerful cars and drivers with bigger reputations to underline his potential.
Now with the more powerful 4WD AP4 car beneath him and Stokes will have the weaponry to take it to his rivals.
“I have only seen a little bit of the stage on TV but it looks like a lot of fun to go up there and see how we go against all the top New Zealand drivers, because they will all be there,” Stokes said.
“It will be cool to be a part of that.
“It will be good to get back in the car – it won’t have been since Catlins and we didn’t get too far at Catlins so really looking forward to just driving the car more and getting some miles under the belt.
“I love driving it – it is such a cool machine to be behind the wheel of.”
The stage at Jacks Ridge has been created by former national champion Andrew Hawkeswood on his farm and he has taken care to ensure it challenges drivers while giving spectators the best possible viewing.
The initial plan was for the stage to be a central part of Rally New Zealand in September when the World Rally Championship was set to return to these shores for the first time since 2012. Unfortunately COVID-19 forced its cancellation but the Battle of Jacks Ridge was born as a result.
With high-speed blind crests and beautifully cambered gravel roads drivers will need plenty of commitment to set fast times and Stokes is renowned for his aggressive driving.
“I think we’ll have a look at the jumps before we hit them too fast,” he said cautiously. “But I think you have to go fast to get faster and if you’re not going fast enough, you are going to get left behind.
“I think commitment is a big thing and I do commit but you have to be sure of it though.”
Stokes was set for his first assault on the national championship in 2020 as he made the move to the AP4 Fiesta but once again COVID-19 ruined that.
“It is a major setback but everyone is in the same boat so we can’t get too down about it,” he said philosophically. “We need to keep moving forward and trying to be positive.
“I think the Battle of Jacks Ridge and City of Auckland Rally [held a day earlier] will be a great step for us.”
The Battle of Jacks Ridge will take place on Sunday November 15 with live coverage on Sky Sport.
Sign up to the free Gravel newsletter via the pop up on rallynewzealand.com to keep up-to-date with information and announcements and receive early bird ticket discounts.