28-29 September – Hanmer Motorsport Weekend

The 2002 Hot Springs Hotel Autosport Club Hanmer Rally:
John Silcock in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI reigned supreme at the Autosport Club’s Hot Springs Hotel Hanmer Motorsport weekend, doing the double by taking out both the rally and the bent sprint. With brother Andrew in the co-driver’s seat for Saturday’s rally, the pairing had a very tight battle for the top spot with last year’s winner Deane Buist and third placed Jeff Judd, both in Subaru Impreza WRX’s.

Judd won the first stage by three seconds from a drawn Silcock and Buist, with Silcock fighting back in the second stage to take it by 5 seconds from Buist with Judd a further 5 seconds back. With the autocross stage time not counting in the final results, the return to the forest saw Silcock again claim the stage win by 4 seconds from Judd with Buist a further 2 seconds in arrears. The stage was set for an exciting final test, but Buist’s 3 second stage win from Silcock was not quite enough to overhaul the Rangiora driver’s lead. John Silcock won the rally by a mere 8 seconds from Deane Buist with Jeff Judd 10 seconds back in third.

Deane commented that he had a great time over the day, the car he had recently acquired from Rocky Hudson had run well all day apart from a misfire which developed between 5 and 6 thousand RPM which lost him time although he concedes he still would not have been able to overtake John. Deane was also quick to point out that the top 7 cars were all running on Silverstone tyres. An impressive statistic for the brand, and an obvious testament to both their quality (no problems had with tyres by those top seven) and Deane’s ability to sell them! Deane’s co-driver for the day Dermot Martin was wholeheardedly impressed by the performance of his pilot for the rally, saying that the quality of Deane’s driving was second to no-one he had ridden with. High praise indeed from the Evo IV driver who has been known to go quickly on occasions himself!

The chasing pack was lead by John Giltrap in his WRX. Giltrap put in some consistently fast times throughout the day although slightly off the pace of the top three until the final run through the forest stage where he scored an impressive time only a handful of seconds down. Leigh Marston with Glenn “Bart” Simpson alongside for this event were trading times with John Giltrap all day. Marston had new diff settings in the Impreza for the rally and was getting used to the changes during SS1, and ended the day 25 seconds back. Merv Hatcher and James Cowles made it to the finish albeit with a small raft of problems that did not help the performance of the Lancer RS. The VR4 engine installed under the bonnet produces good power but there were problems with the wiring of the computer which caused the car to drop onto two cylinders, and only a strategically placed foot on the wires by the co-pilot ensured the car ran well.

Dean Milligan showed that he is coming to terms with gravel events in the Lancer EVO III, with a run of consistent times to lead home the top 2WD finisher by nearly a minute. Blenheim computer mogul Brendon Price finished his first rally in 24th place after being sidelined in his first two attempts, with a blown engine at Canterbury and a dead fuel system in Nelson. Apart from flooring it and dropping the clutch on the start line only to find the car in neutral (sorry Brendon but there are little birdies everywhere in that forest!), the day was without incident and the novice driver enjoyed his day in the WRX. Price’s co-driver Tim Herd did very well to score a second equal place in the publicity autocross stage.

Class placings were interesting contests in themselves with the big 2WD class, 1600cc and over, won by Chris Banks and Scott Ballingal by nearly a minute in a Mazda RX3. Interestingly the last time that John Silcock won the Hanmer Rally was driving an RX3. Bryce Biggs driving the Otago Classic Rally winning BDA Escort RS1800 owned by Brian Stokes came in second with first placed lady driver, 16 year old Sara Randall from Nelson in the Datsun Sunny, 3rd in the class with another rally finish under her belt. Sarah enjoyed the twisty parts of the stage and said “the rally was absolutely awesome, a good mixture of wicked roads and friendly people”. Sarah echoed the comments of other crews who said that Hanmer’s hotpools are a real treat after a hard day’s rallying.

The mid-sized 2WD class, 1301-1600cc, went to Hayden Spatcher with co-driver David Sidery in their front wheel drive Toyota Corolla.  David Gallagher driving the Starlet with Darren Nankervill in the left seat finished in second in the class. The “dark horse” in this class was former 0-1300cc performer Jason Clark in his recently rebuilt and very pristine Corolla DX-4AGE. A little on the rusty side after not driving on gravel in anger for more than two years, Jason with his wife Tracy (who proved she wasn’t too rusty as a co-driver by being one of the only ones who checked the road book pages at documentation) alongside ran wide on a downhill corner mid-way through the first stage and in correcting the error which he called a “rusty driver cock up” the car clipped the grader spoil and tipped on it’s side. By the time it tipped it had scrubbed off speed and the damage was minimal. After righting the Corolla the pair were on their way. Other dramas for the Clarks were nothing out of the ordinary,… getting a bit keen in a slippery left and switching windows to drive while looking out the passenger one, and fuel floating around in the car after a tank bung had been left off (well, that’s not very ordinary). They finished 3rd in class after having a very enjoyable day.

The small capacity 0-1300cc class was won convincingly in a commanding performance by Bruce France and his son and co-driver Vaughan France in the Toyota Starlet. This had to be a top contender for the “drive of the day” award! The pair also finished a fine 10th overall in the rally, and second 2WD home. Bruce commented that he had really enjoyed the day, the car had run well. Second place in the class went to seasoned campaigner Grant Goile with co-pilot Anthony Reed in the KE25 Corolla with a string of similar times throughout the day. David Fletcher and Andrew Reid in the KE20 Corolla took in 3rd in the class with a drive that saw the 31st seed climb to 16th overall. The event was not without incident for the pair who suffered an alternator wiring failure that was repaired just before the start, and a very near miss with that big tree on the outside of the downhill off camber right a few corners before the concrete bridge. The new flares on the rear of the car came very close to being “un-flared”! Jonathan Bradshaw continuously improved his times throughout the day and got through the rally unscathed and with drivetrain intact unlike the last couple of rallies.

The publicity stage, run in an autocross format over a 2km course in a paddock just south of Hanmer, put on a great show for the 40 or 50 odd carloads of spectators that turned out to watch. Paul Russ in the Subaru Omega from Nelson won the stage, closely followed by Deane Buist who drew for second with Tim Herd. Mike McMillan from Greymouth did really well to place his 1300cc Starlet as top 2WD car in the stage, in 6th place. Darrin Burke from Motueka put on a great show of high revving sideways driving in his Mazda GTX.

The rally had its fair share of bad luck, with 12 of the 39 starters failing to finish. The first stage claimed 0-1300cc class favorite Donald Mathais with two tyres off the rims and the car beached on one of the last left hand intersections near the finish. Don had a couple of minor moments earlier in the stage and these may have contributed to the tyres going flat, culminating in his exit from the rally. Big 2WD class favorite Glenn Buist broke an axle in the second stage and retired from the event. The biggest crash of the event was had by local driver Chris Brereton whose Corolla left the road on a tightening downhill corner and the steep forested terrain resulted in a badly damaged vehicle. Thankfully the crew escaped without serious injury.  Geoff Bone’s run of dismal luck continued when he broke a front right ball joint in the windey, rutted, uphill section not far into the final stage. To top it all off the car partially fell off the trailer on the way back to Hanmer and dragged two near-new tyres along the road.

The horror stories continued with Les Summerfield’s turbo sucking in something foreign and saying goodbye to it’s compressor fins mid-way through stage two. Andrew Sim’s Corolla completed the first stage before going no further. Luke Thelning’s Datsun 1200 gave up with electrical and fuel system problems during SS2. Stewart Bufton’s Starlet didn’t make the start of the publicity stage. Royce Watson’s newly acquired DX Corolla did not start the final stage. Robert McCallum’s Escort failed after the publicity stage. Barry Varcoe and Andrew Bullman were running well in the small car class in their Starlet but they lost two minutes in the last stage of the day allowing third place to be snatched from their grasp.

The rally roads were in great condition, unaffected by a few showers in previous days, and were a great mix of twisting narrow and wide flowing sections, with a thin bridge and a few off camber downhill corners to catch out the unwary. Apart from a few rutty sections in the slippery sections with heavy tree cover the surface stood up well to the repeated use, with the improving times throughout the day testament to the quality of the course and the quality of the crews.

The prizegiving at the Hot Springs Hotel featured huge meals, lots of drinking and some speeches by people receiving the (very appropriate for a pub) printed beer mug trophies. Birthday boy Nick Marston got sung to and everyone had a grand old time (although we did miss the netball team from last year!).

The 2002 Hot Springs Hotel Autosport Club Hanmer Bent Sprint:
Sunday’s bent sprint was run on the final four kilometers of the rally stage but in the opposite direction. The committee and helpers of all shapes and sizes turned up early on Sunday to help organise the event and things ran really smoothly. A big thanks goes to Gavin Henson and his ever keen CRC team with the radios and timing gear performing well (both for the rally and the sprint).

Again the first few placings were hotly contested between the 4WD turbo cars. Merv Hatcher in his Mitsubishi Lancer RS opened the scoring with a second’s lead over John Giltrap in the Subaru Impreza WRX. John Silcock fought back in the second run with a scorching time 5 seconds faster than his first which was to be the winning time for the day. Hatcher had problems with the car’s computer and was down on pace in the second run. Silcock’s third run was slower than his second and it was left to Hatcher to go for the win in his final run. With his passenger holding the computer plug in place Hatcher blasted through the course but a slight loss of time in a rutty corner saw him stay in second place by just 0.2 seconds! Third place went to Justin Prattley in his Mazda GTR, two seconds down. Leigh Marston finished a further two seconds down and commented that the sprint went well with only problem being getting off the start line due to too much traction while experimenting with “launch control”. The WRX also scrapped another pair of rear brake rotors in a recurrence of the problem that has plagued Marston’s rally season. Hopefully that can be brought under control by the time Timaru rolls around.

In the big 2WD class Glenn Buist piloted his repaired BDA Escort into first place by 4 seconds from Brent Rawstron’s similar car, which is not often seen at sprint events. Bryce Biggs brought home the Escort RS1800 in third. A great drive by Blair Logan saw him again win the mid-sized 2WD class in the Corolla by four seconds from Andrew Sim in another Corolla FXGT. Two seconds back in third was rally stalwart Chris Paddon in the Levin driven in the previous day’s rally by his son Hayden. Don Mathias was a man on a mission after a DNF in the rally and he put in an awesome drive to win the 0-1300cc class in the Starlet. Don was running 9th overall after the first run and that time stood to take the class win. Five seconds down and second in the class was Grant Goile, followed by rally class winner Bruce France only 0.1 seconds behind! First lady driver of the day was won by CTV presenter and regular sprint competitor Jo Giles in the Henson Motorsport Toyota Starlet, and novice driver of the day went to Scott Reid in his Toyota 4AGE powered Ford Escort.

After the runs were done the prizegiving at the Hot Springs Hotel handed out the printed schooner glass trophies and everyone headed into the teeth of the southerly that had held off until the events were completed. With the drivers commenting that both events were a lot of fun, and that the roads were great, both the rally and sprint had a level of success that bodes well for next year’s Hanmer Motorsport Weekend. The event has proven again that motorsport at a club level is alive and well and that a relaxed and friendly atmosphere can go hand in hand with tight competition. These sentiments were also expressed by visiting crews from Nelson, the West Coast and Mid-Canterbury.