31 March – Hanmer Motorsport Weekend

Double Sprint:
An overnight deluge on Friday produced road conditions described as “challenging” by some, “bloody good fun” by others, and “diabolical” by the remainder! The event got underway from the Hot Springs Hotel on time and with the rain still coming down the crews headed for the start line in the forest. A delay was experienced while the organisers changed a few caution points and arrowing setups through the course at the advice of the MSNZ steward. At first the road conditions didn’t look to be too bad, and one by one the competitors roared off the line and down the long straight to the spectator corner. The slightly slippery conditions at the 90-left belied what was in store up the hill, with the climb getting more and more greasy and across the top the large sharp gravel had been exposed by the rain, offering some level of grip but deepening jagged ruts as the day went by. The end of the first course had a couple of small lakes developing on the inside of some sweeping corners and passengers were well occupied opening and closing roof vents to keep the splash out! The second course was a tighter, mostly downhill run and the ruts in the road soon became rivers of mud with rocks being exposed underneath. Good speed could be had on the more open sections of the road, but some care was required in the slippery mud of the tighter parts, with some drivers reported as having had the odd wee moment going at “walking pace”!

First off of the day went to Ian McKee in Brent Tiney’s Escort Mk1, with the car sledging off the road and into the trees on the practice run after a bit of a straight leading into the tight and slippery downhill section of Course 2. Ian contends that after years of sitting alongside Brent Rawstron in the BDA he thought it best if he continue in that vein and try to get alongside the Rossendale Escort in front. Unfortunately some particularly slippery pine needles (although we had heard it was the passenger grabbing the handbrake) appeared out of nowhere and the car took to the trees, with luckily only a few dents and scratches the result of the escapade. Trevor Crowe had parked up the Skoda on the top bit of the climb up the upper road with fuel pickup problems. He would sit out the first run to have the car going again for the second.

Down to business and the first timed run through course 1 saw Les Summerfield and Merv Hatcher signal the fight was on with a dead heat that would stand as the fastest time through that road for the day because the conditions deteriorated. Brent Rawstron showed his experience in all conditions with a time only 5 seconds slower than the two 4WD cars in front. A gaggle of 4WDs followed, then rookie driver Chris Barnett in the RX7 from Nelson only two seconds behind Leigh Marston’s WRX. Dermot Martin was taking it easy in the Evo4, obviously saving the car ahead of his Rally NZ trip, but Stewart Bufton was not taking it easy, posting a good time to lead the mid-sized engine class in the 4-AGE powered Starlet. Grant Goile was another showing his experience in any weather leading the small car class after the first run. Bruce France suffered an unfortunate differential failure on the first run and would retire for the day, a shame considering his great performance at Rakaia had thrown down the gauntlet to the other drivers in the class. Engine failure put paid to the 4-AGE in Scott Reid’s Mk2 Escort halfway up the hill, his weekend coming to a sad end there and then, although reports have it that it was not too sad as there were two lady marshalls at the point he stopped.  Nelson’s Sara Randall had the exhaust come unstuck from her sparkling (well, not any more!) new AE111 Levin and the other Randalls (with the help of some wire from the first aid crew stationed between the stages) made great use of kiwi ingenuity and soon had the car ready to continue. Sara was spending some time getting used to the front wheel drive and had an up-and-down, but relatively consistent day.

Don Mathias would have gone faster in this run had it not been for a bit of an off. He ran off the road at the second left hand corner, splashed up the water table, kept his boot up it while cleaning the windscreen of muddy water, and all of a sudden arrived at the tightening right hander. Needless to say he didn’t get round it, sledging off the road, just missing a tree hit the bank. Backing out and continuing, he watched the temperature all the way back to service but all was OK with the radiator, although he had bent the left front wheel backwards about 40mm! He ran like that for the rest of the day.

The first run through Course 2 saw a great drive from Kaikoura’s Regan Ross in the ex-Rocky Hudson WRX. He pipped Brent Rawstron’s BDA by just 3 seconds and four from Les Summerfield and a charging Wayne Julian in the Peugeot 306. John Giltrap appeared on the radar not far in arrears as did Merv Hatcher and Grant Fisher all the way from the West Coast in his 323 sporting a Citroen WRC colour scheme (Oui! Eeet iz a Mazda!). Mixing it with the 4WDs was the renegade Starlet of Don Mathias, clearly a man on a mission, Mathias was using the lightness of the car on the descent to great effect, setting a time only 14 seconds behind the leader’s WRX. Competitors were mostly driving to the conditions and very little major drama was experienced (although more than a few wide eyes showed that there was drama nonetheless!). Andy Reid ruptured a rear tyre at the start of the course and ran the whole run on the rim with the tyre still attached but deflated as he didn’t notice it, putting the sliding around and lack of traction down to the slippery road. Shane Thornley in the RX7 got a fright when a rear wheel came off when the bolts holding it on mysteriously disappeared! Shane commented that perhaps some silly person had not done them up tight enough. When pressed he recalled that it was him!

Run 2 through course 1 saw most drivers go slower than in their first, although improving were Lloyd Owen in the Evo 6.5 shaving 10 seconds off his first run time; Dermot Martin, who decided to switch off the air-con for this run and went 17 seconds faster (Air-con would not be a bad idea in these conditions! – Ed.); Steve Carr having fun in the RX7 improved 10 seconds; Don Mathias put his foot down (and the car on two wheels) and went 20 seconds better; Geoff Bone rung 11 seconds more speed out of the 323 4WD; Andy Reid in the TeamRFR Corolla took 10 seconds off his run 1 time, commenting that 14″ tractor tyres would be more appropriate than the used Bridgestones the car was running. Blenheim Lancer RS driver Kevin Newton would go 8 seconds faster in run 2 than run 1; Josh Marston in his first outing in the newly built Starlet (with a lovely “polished knob” as one observer put it) shaved two seconds from his opening score and Brendon Price in the WRX, trying a new setup of the car’s ride height and differential settings for this event, blew an astonishing 36 seconds off his previous effort (trying a new technique of taking his foot off the brake – Ed.).

Aaron Scott would finish running in his newly reconditioned engine in the BDA Escort (completing the first part of the run-in process the day before!) on this run then trailer the car, satisfied with it’s performance in the lead up to his annual assault at the Otago classic rally. Retirement from the event came for Gary Grant in the interesting Mazda 323 rotary, firstly his exhaust broke but then it became more terminal for the Nelson driver with 3rd gear disappearing, and with no spare gearbox he was unable to continue.

The second run through course 2 was again won by Regan Ross with an identical time to his first go. Merv Hatcher upped his pace and was three seconds behind the WRX in his Lancer, followed closely by Brent Rawstron who tied the run with Garry Cliff who was 8 seconds faster this run than previous in the Evo4. Grant Fisher was locked in a battle with Don Mathias and spectators were beginning to talk of whether power and traction would win over lightness (and madness? – Ed.) would win the day there. Grant Goile was tied with Les Summerfield for this run in another interesting comparison of light 2WD vs. power and 4WD. An even mixture of drivers gained and lost on their first run times, indicating that the road conditions had not changed drastically between the two runs, rivers of mud were flowing down the ruts throughout both! Steve Carr in the RX7 had a problem that saw him lose a lot of time over his prior effort and Josh Marston had a disastrous time, putting the Starlet off the road and into the water table, finally emerging from the stage 23 minutes later after being towed back onto the road by the recovery crew. No damage was done to the car except a dislodged mud flap, Luckily the results are based on fastest time of day. Les Summerfield’s WRX had lunched second gear so the day was over for the Rangiora driver who was on the pace all the way.

For a number of drivers the second time through the second course was enough, and ten or so decided to call it a day, believing that the road would not allow them to go any faster. Most also said that the conditions were too risky and with the sprint series round the following day they would rather save their cars for that. Dermot Martin’s concerns were well founded ahead of Rally NZ, having had an instance of non-control, going up a bank which was luckily shallow enough in angle that the car rode up it and not into it. Subsequently he discovered however that the suspension setting was on ‘tarmac’ which may go some way to explaining why he couldn’t seem to get round the corners very well. (Don’t let that man set up your video recorder – Ed.).

Regan Ross grabbed his chance to get more experience and launched into course 1 for the final time, setting a time only 1 second down on his run 1 time, and gaining confidence in the conditions. Lloyd Owen was quick too, a tick behind Ross, followed by Garry Cliff who bettered himself to the tune of 12 seconds and Geoff Bone in his 323 4WD found some herbs to match Cliff’s improvement. Don Mathias took a further 6 seconds off his score. Ian McKee had recovered from his off in practice and gained himself 16 seconds in the process. Stephen Peterson shaved 4 seconds off in a consistent drive that would set him up well for an overall result. Andy Reid lopped a whopping 19 seconds off his previous best for the course. Running new Silverstone S55’s to see what kind of difference new tyres make, he gained confidence in the grip, allowing him to push harder and proving that maybe they do help a bit! Barry Deuart was another driver to make up some time by taking the last run, although the ruts up the top were starting to glow in the bottom and his low sump guard had him floating along like a slot car in a couple of places.  Gavin Henson put in a consistent run to score his best of the day by 4 seconds.

The last crack at course 2 was the moment that Regan Ross took the bull by the horns and put the event in his pocket. The WRX scorched through the run, setting fastest time by 8 seconds from a hard-charging Garry Cliff who also seized the opportunity to improve taking 16 seconds off his previous time. Lloyd Owen did the same, putting a time 18 seconds faster than his best until then on the card. There were more than a few gasps at the time posted by Don Mathias in the Starlet. When the card were tallied a time of 7 minutes 21 seconds was confirmed, only 1 second behind the Owen Evo 6.5! Mathias was peddling like a demon even in the atrocious conditions, an inspired drive. Onlookers could only imagine at what it would have been like inside the car on it’s way down that slippery hill! Grant Fisher came in only 2 seconds behind the Starlet, so the power/traction vs. lightness debate still rages! Geoff Bone had his 323 placed at 6th for course 2, having much better luck than last year at the Hanmer event. Andy Reid’s confidence had grown in leaps and bounds and he went 21 better in the final pass. Gavin Henson blitzed his previous best taking 35 seconds off, and getting to grips well with the new locked diff in his otherwise fairly standard Toyota Starlet. Run three saw Steve Carr again have a bit of a problem, getting out after 30 minutes. Josh Marston was being careful after the second run. Barry Deuart improved 7 seconds but it would not be quite enough to get amongst the class placings.

Given the very challenging conditions it was a credit to all that there were no major accidents and only the odd minor ‘off’ to scuff some paintwork, bend a few panels and scare a few passengers. Demisters got a workout, Don Mathias recommends getting these checked out before every event, because a towel on a stick is just not effective enough!

After a nice long soak in the hot pools the prize giving was well attended with the Hot Springs Hotel serving up some very nice meals and many nice cold beers (and stronger stuff for some!). Running against tradition the rest of the evening was rather subdued by Hanmer Weekend standards, with most crews vacating the premises by 11m00pm. Nevertheless a good time was had by all. The final results for the combined runs were as follows:

Overall + 4WD:
Regan Ross (Subaru WRX) 14m25s – 1,
Merv Hatcher (Mits Lancer RS) 14m37s – 2,
Garry Cliff (Mits EVO4) 14m37s – 3. (Hatcher took 2nd on countback).

2WD 1601cc+:
Brent Rawstron (Ford Escort BDA) 14m42s – 1,
Chris Barnett (Mazda RX7) 15m07s – 2,
Wayne Julian (Peugeot 306) 15m15s – 3.

2wd 1301-1600cc:
Luke Thelning (Toyota Corolla) 15m49s – 1,
Stewart Bufton (Toyota Starlet) 15m51s – 2,
John Weir (Honda Accord) 16m17s – 3.

2WD 0-1300cc:
Don Mathias (Toyota Starlet) 15m06s – 1.
Stephen Peterson (Toyota Starlet) 15m44s – 2,
Grant Goile (Toyota Corolla) 15m45s – 3.

Sunday Bent Sprint:
Sunday dawned a little brighter than the day before and every now and then the sun tried to break through, but didn’t quite succeed, although the a halt to the rain and the warmer conditions the road dried out slightly. The sprint was run backwards down the first 3km of the first course from the day before, and it turned out to be a heck of a lot of fun. Like the previous day, no major dramas were had, and the event ran very smoothly, with some competitors getting to take a 4th run through.

Royce Watson spent some time under Bruce France’s car after ferrying a new diff up from Christchurch the previous evening and Bruce was able to take the start but was pipped for third in the small car class by a great drive from Barry Deuart in the Datsun 120Y. David Fletcher had a coil lead come off and stopped to re-attach it and then continued run 1. Andrea Summerfield did not take run1 due to the WRX not wanting to run. Apparently Les had driven the car too hard the day before! Fortunately the problem was tracked to water in the map sensor (where would that have come from?!) so the Summerfield crew stripped the sensors off a road going Subaru and put them into the rally car, which seemed to cure the problem. Andy Reid had a big tank-slapper on the first slippy right over crest which didn’t seem to slow him up much but put some good marks on the road. Brendon Price registered a DNF for run 2 event though he completed the course, a timing computer mixup the likely cause. The Blenheim driver suggests however that the car was going too fast for the timing gear to register, but the time would not have been great as the car had jumped out of gear off the start line and wouldn’t re-engage. Sarah Randall’s Levin was jumping out of gear and the car would be off to the Buist’s after the event for some investigation. Stu Weeber broke a rear half shaft in Leigh Marston’s WRX on the start line of run 2. Grant Goile’s Corolla KE25 developed a misfire in run 3, a problem that remained unsolved. Royce Watson had a turbo hose come off in run 3 and did not complete the run. Jo Giles blew not only most everyone’s but her own socks off as she scorched through the run in Deane Buist’s Lancer to record 5th overall. You go girl! Chris Barnett again put in a great drive in only his second ever event to finish 4th in the big 2WD class. Don Mathias was 9 seconds faster than anyone else in the small car class!

At the business end of the classes, Deane Buist had the best of first outings for his recently acquired Evo 4 taking the fastest run of the day, three seconds clear of Merv Hatcher who had another second placing for the weekend. Stu Weeber grabbed third in the Marston WRX, a very good performance considering the start line mishap mentioned previously. The green machine at the hands of Robert “Groove” McCallum took out the big 2WDs by a nose from the charging Alec Doig in the V8 Mk1 Escort, in a great return to Autosport events for the Rangiora driver. Less than a second back was Royce Watson in the Corolla DX turbo, another driver to do well despite not completing all the runs. Andrew Sim cleaned up the mid-sized 2WD class by 7 seconds, going hard even in the absence of class rival Blair Logan. Luke Thelning is revelling in the FWD Corolla, taking second place ahead of John Weir’s Accord by less than a a second. As mentioned, Don Mathias put in a scorcher in the Starlet to take the small engined class from a resurgent Barry Deuart. The Datsun 120Y driver commenting that the roads were much more suited to the car in this event. Continuing the close runs for second and third, Grant Goile was only 0.12 seconds in arrears for third.

The event was done and tidied up by 3m30pm and after a few drinkies and a feed at the sponsor’s establishment the trophies were presented to the deserving winners of the classes, then it was off into the wild grey yonder as the crews headed for home.

The results were:

Overall and 4WD:
Deane Buist (Mits EVO4) 2m02.20s – 1,
Merv Hatcher (Mits Lancer RS) 2m05.27s – 2,
Stu Weeber (Subaru WRX-RA) 2m06.54s – 3.

2WD 1601cc+:
Robert McCallum (Ford Escort) 2m15.44s – 1,
Alec Doig (Ford Escort V8) 2m16.54s – 2,
Royce Watson (Corolla DX 4AGE-t) 2m17.41s – 3.

2wd 1301-1600cc:
Andrew Sim (Toyota Corolla) 2m18.89 – 1,
Luke Thelning (Toyota Corolla) 2m25.70s – 2,
John Weir (Honda Accord) 2m26.42s – 3.

2WD 0-1300cc:
Don Mathias (Toyota Starlet) 2m20.65s – 1,
Barry Deuart (Datsun 120Y) 2m29.38s – 2,
Grant Goile (Toyota Corolla) 2m29.50s – 3.

Thanks again to the organisers, radio crew, time crews, first aid, fire crews and marshalls who made the events of the weekend run so well. In particular Mr. Dave McCahon for his Clerk of Course role, Tony Witheridge for his work on the timing spreadsheet, and Gavin Henson for his work on the timing equipment. Thanks to Carter Holt Harvey and FBI for the use of the forest. Special thanks to the Hot Springs Hotel, without whom we would not be able to enjoy the great forest roads of Hanmer Springs.