18 August – Mt Alexander Sprint

The trip from Christchurch under a clear blue sky with snow covered mountains on the horizon made it worth getting out of bed just to travel to the event. Many wondered what the road condition would be like following the heavy rain or the days preceding but all concerns were put to rest through the indian file. The road was in close to perfect nick, with some loose gravel around but not enough to concern anyone. The fords were dry so the scene was set for some very fast times through the course, which comprised short straights interspersed with windy sections alongside a creek in the bottom of the valley, followed by a flowing uphill section to the finish.

With the timing gear and radio crews in place in good time, it was get your numbers and get into gear. There still wasn’t a cloud in the sky for the start of the sprint, however there were cows on the road. A few close calls were had by the first drivers to take to the course and repeat runs were on the cards. Once the bothersome bovines buggered off, it was all on! With the start line immediately adjacent to the pit area, it was great to be able to watch the cars take the first two corners from the comfort of the service vehicles.
Jeff Judd made his intentions clear on the first run setting the benchmark time, but with Merv Hatcher hot on his heels after the first run Jeff really turned it on, lowering the bar by a further 6 seconds in run 2 and taking out the event by shaving yet another two seconds off that in the final charge up the valley. Jeff had a busy day as he also drove his Escort BDA to great effect after a recent diff replacement. Merv also set the second fastest time in run two and the scene was set for a final run showdown however after charging through the first half of the course the Lancer came mysteriously to a halt, and the battle was over. The fault was traced to the kill switch and a disappointed Hatcher was able to drive to the finish. That problem allowed season sensation Nigel Beck to sneak through and gain second place after solid improvement between runs one and two and edging out Justin Prattley by half a second in the final run of the day, who in turn pipped Ryan Berry by three tenths of a second for third. A great battle at the top of the field! Leigh Marston’s brakes were causing headaches again with another rear rotor biting the dust. The brakes in the car were under extra strain this event as Roger Townshend was also using the Impreza and put in some great runs for his first time in a 4WD turbo on gravel. Berry, Marston and Townshend took the three top honous in the 4WD class with overall prizes being ineligible for class prizes this time. The big engined 2WD class saw speed and drama with a hard charging Glenn Buist providing arguably the most spectacular sideways driving of the day (if you don’t count Robert McCallum’s sideways driving after the finish line!). The video evidence of Glenn’s “Minties moment” at the bridge, shows the BDA missed tagging the high side by a hair’s breadth, followed by a tank-slapper rivaling that of the Ford Falcon in a certain “Speed Kills” ad. The rubber mark on the final bolt on the side of the bridge proving just how close Crusty came to making the car crustier than the duct tape and house paint repairs effected after the off road excursion at Catlins. Even with all the sphincter-clenching, Glenn put the Escort into a deserved first place in the class. Second went to Deane Buist in the FWD Corolla, having a great time trying to make the car look like a RWD on the tighter corners, and third in the class went to the Escort of Robert McCallum, who’s last run provided entertainment for the spectators even after it was finished.

The other contender for “Moment of the day” went to David Carr in taking the ex Steve Carr RX7 on a ride more suited to the farmer’s Hilux. Carr took to the grass at the right hand brow into a tight left hander through a small concrete ford with a bank on the outside and a drop on the inside. The RX7 missed the bank, going across the road and down next to the creek. With David’s attempt to drive out up the bank to rejoin the road not quite working, a short trip back along the valley floor was required to gain the road and carry on with the run. Keenkiwi caught this little excursion on film (below), it’s always good to have a memento of such an occasion!

The mid-sized 2WD contest was yet again the domain of Blair Logan, who cranked up the road to take a 7 second victory in the class from event organiser Andrew Sim in a similar Corolla FX-GT. The video evidence showed a polished performance from the Ashburton driver Logan, who was back to winning ways after a second place in class at the Catlins rally. Another visitor from far flung places, Hayden Paddon in the Toyota Levin, took out the third place in the class with a solid improvement of 15 seconds throughout the day.
In the small capacity class Don Mathias proved too quick for the competition, with the Starlet running on new Silverstone tyres. Puncturing at the end of the first run didn’t seem to affect Don’s great time. Beaten in the second run by Grant Goile, he pulled out the stoppers for the third run, finally succeeding by 3 seconds over the Corolla driver. Barry Deuart in the Datsun 120Y broke the Toyota stranglehold on the class in a clear third place with a good run. No real dramas were reported in the class, with everyone commenting that the road was excellent and a lot of fun. Corolla driver David Fletcher commented that with an extra hundred horsepower he may have been able to get out of second gear up the hill. Apparently you just need to get a better run-up at the bottom!

The only retirement of the day was Richard Towse who unfortunately had to trailer the Datsun Sunny after the diff made a graunching noise on the start line of run 2 and promptly failed to provide drive to the wheels. While loading the car onto the trailer backwards (that’s the only way it would go) a philosophical Towse commented that it was the car’s first mechanical failure at an event for 8 years so there was no real need to get worked up about it. Richard set a good time in his first run and it would have been interesting to see how he improved over the day as everyone else did, but it was not to be.

The event’s completion was almost timed to perfection, with cars being loaded onto trailers and some quick shovel work taking care of the worst of the start ruts just as a southerly blast struck the area. The blizzard deposited heavy sleet over everything, including the timing gear which was in mid-packup when the bad weather arrived. Thanks to all those who stuck around to help drag everything into the vans.

The prize giving at the Woodend Hotel was a subdued affair for no particular reason, with almost everyone quietly happy with their day. Appreciation was expressed to the radio and timing crews, the organisers and helpers, and of course the sponsors, who without them these events would would not be the great day out in the hills that they are. Results are as follows:

Jeff Judd (Subaru Impreza) 2m51.69s – 1,
Nigel Beck (Mits EVO2) 2m54.82s – 2,
Justin Prattley (Mazda GTR) 2m55.31s – 3,

4WD 1601cc+
Ryan Berry (Mirage EVO) 2m55.58s – 1,
Leigh Marston (Subaru WRX) 2m57.01s – 2,
Roger Townshend (Subaru WRX) 2m58.22s – 3,

2WD 1601cc+:
Glenn Buist (Ford Escort) 2m57.24s – 1,
Deane Buist (Toyota Corolla) 2m58.17s – 2,
Robert McCallum (Ford Escort) 3m06.24s – 3,

2wd 1301-1600cc:
Blair Logan (Toyota Corolla) 3m01.73s – 1,
Andrew Sim (Toyota Corolla) 3m09.05s – 2,
Hayden Paddon (Toyota Levin) 3m16.24s – 3,

2WD 0-1300cc:
Don Mathias (Toyota Starlet) 3m16.52 – 1,
Grant Goile (Toyota Corolla) 3m19.86s – 2,
Barry Deuart (Datsun 120Y) 3m24.53s – 3.