Reigning New Zealand rally champion Andrew Hawkeswood won't be defending his title in 2018.

The Auckland driver did a spectacular job to hold off Matt Summerfield and Ben Hunt to win the title last year but has opted to concentrate on business interests this year and will skip the first half of the season at least.

It means three of the championship's leading contenders won't be competing this year as the championship becomes victim of its own success. Champion in 2016 David Holder is competing in the Junior World Rally Championship while Sloan Cox is focused on a European Rallycross campaign.

Hawkeswood's reasons for stepping aside are more personal.

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"I had a few opportunities handed to me on plate so I had to concentrate on the construction side of the business," Hawkeswood told The Herald. "The way Auckland is at the moment there is plenty going on.

"The last three years I have been very motorsport focused so it is really time to pay back to the business and the family really.

"If you want to go to win you have to give it everything and that was what I was trying to nut out. It was hard enough before but now it is even harder.

"It was a pretty tough call."

While he won't be at the opening round of the championship in Otago next month Hawkeswood hasn't ruled out a return towards the end of the six-round championship once his work life settles down.

"I might do something later in the year. I am fairly certainly that we will go back to the Baja 1000 for the off-roading. As far as rallying goes it is pretty up in the air at the moment."

Hawkeswood's absence is felt beyond his driving – he owns six of the new generation AP4 cars and the future of those cars remains up in the air as well, although he does hope to see them used in competition.

His son Jack will pilot one of them from May's International Rally of Whangarei – the second round of the championship.

"Four are basically ready to use including Jack's car. He will be back into it probably at Whangarei I'd say.

"There has been [plenty of interest] but still nothing on paper just yet but we have had plenty of calls so far."

Leading Australian driver Brendon Reeves, who drove one of Hawkeswood's cars to victory at Rally Coromandel last year, is trying to put together the budget to attack the full series in 2018 although he will miss the first event in Otago.

He would be a welcome addition to the championship.

"I'd say he will get something together but with what was happening with me I didn't have any time or resource to put together to help him," Hawkeswood said. "I am absolutely tapped with what I am doing."