A warm nor’wester day in Christchurch saw competitors and crews head for the very cloudy looking Canterbury foothills in a return to the Mt. Thomas sprint. The event would be run in the opposite direction to earlier in the year, and the contest would be hot given it was the final round of the Autosport Sprint Series for 2002.
The rain started only a few kilometers from the turnoff into the Mt. Thomas forest, and with news that they’d been logging on the sprint road, everybody got the feeling it was going to be a mudbath. A late start was on the cards as the drivers gathered in the pouring rain, the logging crew finishing up (lunch!) just as the event was due to get underway. Through the indian file the road proved to be in not bad nick, apart from one very bumpy and very muddy section featuring a log chipper as big as a house and a matching pile of chipped logs. The browed intersection into an off camber downhill right at the end of a fast flowing section would be an interesting challenge in the slippery conditions.
Ryan Berry got things off to a flyer with the fastest time in run 1. Snapping at the Mirage driver’s heals was John Giltrap, fresh from an excellent showing at the Timaru spring rally, although conditions here could not have been more different from that event. Merv Hatcher was just as quick out of the blocks less than a second behind. Visiting driver Emma Gilmour of Dunedin in the EVO3 immediately went into the top times with Blair Logan in the 2WD Corolla pulling out a scorcher to almost equal the 4WD time. Leigh Marston having a good run in the WRX (apart from a wee moment at ‘the brow’) and Deane Buist was fastest of the 2WDs with 5th fastest time, even in the slippery conditions. Overall Sprint Series leader Justin Prattley was a bit off the pace in his Mazda GTR. Leading the RWD charge was Robert McCallum, followed by Stewart Bufton in the 4AGE Starlet. Grant Goile and Gary Hawkes hovered on similar times just behind Bufton. Back from an extended break was James Goile who put in a good time first up to be second in class behind Grant. Sean Sands missed run 1 having problems in the Escort and Andy Reid’s Corolla was overheating during David Fletcher’s run in the car and continued to do so on the start line. This was traced to a stopped fan, and Andy elected to miss the run and repair the fault.
The road was starting to churn up in places (the logging site was well past “churned”!) but with most drivers having a feel for the level of grip the times began to drop. Merv Hatcher was fastest in run 2, posting a mark around a second ahead of nearest challenger John Giltrap. Improving 10 seconds over his previous run was Justin Prattley who was now well within the top 10. Deane Buist was nipping at Ryan Berry’s heals this time through and Les Summerfield in the WRX got amongst it, stopping the clock in 6th fastest time. Emma Gilmour posted a steady improvement in conditions not unlike some of the slippery Whare Flat forest sections at the Otago Rally this year. Blair Logan improved 3 seconds and seemingly put his seal on the mid-size 2WD class staying well ahead of the Corolla FX-GT of Andrew Sim who was closely followed by Jason Clark in the 4AGE powered Corolla DX with the car looking immaculate once again after the wee ‘ooops’ at Hanmer. Robert McCallum blasted through the run, shaving 10 seconds off his run 1 time and leading in Carl Balani by 7 seconds. Balani in the RX7 positively lopped time off his first run effort, but that was perhaps due to a little game of “chicken” with a mini-tanker in run 1 (see photo from KeenKiwi). Don Mathias sneaked back ahead of Grant Goile in the small engined class by a second with James Goile again going well in third.
The scene was set for a tight finish, and what a time to pull a ‘blinder’ out of the hat (or should that be seat of the pants!). Run of the day went to Justin Prattley, knocking a further 8 seconds off his run 2 time to take out the event by less than half a second from Merv Hatcher who also stormed through the run determined to set a good time. Prattley rose to the very big challenge from his competitors and in winning the sprint also took out the Autosport Sprint Series for 2002. Hatcher’s time was pushed all the way by Ryan Berry in the Mirage 4WD who finished also less than half a second behind the Lancer driver. Emma Gilmour had a good final run to finish 4th in her first visit to the Mt. Thomas sprint. After a great start John Giltrap looked to be in with a shot but didn’t quite match the pace of his rivals in the final run, finishing but a half second behind Gilmour. Deane Buist topped the 2WD’s yet again with a fine skid into 6th place overall.
The two larger 2WD classes were dominated by the top driver in each, Deane Buist as mentioned and Blair Logan in the 1301-1600cc class, each winning their class by around 5 seconds. In the mid-size class Andrew Sim was beaten into 2nd place by Gary Hawkes in the Escort. Hawkes improved in leaps and bounds throughout the day on his return after a break from the sport. Grant Goile won the 0-1300cc class in a great drive that put the KE25 Corolla into 14th overall, closely (!) followed by Don Mathias a third of a second back and a deserving James Goile came home in third in the class.
Further back in the field there were some stories to tell of woe and misfortune. Both Brent McAllister and David Fletcher suffered from “last run exuberance” and went off the road, although the former’s Escort was much more unlucky than the latter’s Corolla! The Escort hit caught the inside of the 90 right at the bottom of the hill just before the finish, pitching the car across the road and into the clay bank. Brent’s first ever crash ended with a very bent front end and to top it off the accelerator pedal jammed under the brake pedal and the resulting revs combined with going nowhere ruined the clutch and gearbox in the car. Fletcher’s moment was far less severe, braking too late for the very same corner and turning in going way too fast saw the car back itself into the ditch on the outside of the corner, and very nearly score a couple of fence posts on it’s way to a halt further along the ditch. A lucky escape.
With the sun finally deciding to come out, everyone packed up and headed for Northern Exposure in Rangiora for a few beers. Prizegiving for the sprint was at club night, and with the sprint series decided we look forward to congratulating the winners at the Autosport Club end of year function.
Overall and 4WD 1601cc+:
Justin Prattley (Mazda GTR) 2m23.84s – 1,
Merv Hatcher (Mits Lancer) 2m24.22s – 2,
Ryan Berry (Mits Mirage 4WD) 2m24.66s – 3.
Deane Buist (Toyota Corolla) 2m29.61s – 1,
Robert McCallum (Ford Escort) 2m34.22s – 2,
Carl Balani (Mazda RX7) 2m38.73s – 3.
Blair Logan (Toyota Corolla) 2m31.53s – 1,
Gary Hawkes (Ford Escort) 2m35.42s – 2,
Andrew Sim (Toyota Corolla) 2m37.62 – 3.
Grant Goile (Toyota Corolla) 2m42.41s – 1,
Don Mathias (Toyota Starlet) 2m42.71 – 2,
James Goile (Toyota Starlet) 2m46.25s – 3.