28-29 June – Canterbury Rally

Rangiora’s Les Summerfield driving a Subaru WRX took an emphatic win in the Northern Exposure/Canary Furniture Canterbury Rally this past weekend. With competitors falling by the wayside through off road excursions and mechanical failures, Summerfield’s consistently fast drive winning stages 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8 secured him the victory. A turbo hose problem in stage 5 saw the Rangiora driver fall closer to the following cars but blistering pace once the problem was sorted sealed it. In another huge performance Brent Buist piloted his BDA Escort into second place and first place in the big classic class, with Lancer driver Merv Hatcher again securing a place on the podium with an eventful run. The gearbox of the Lancer developing a ugly noise didn’t stop Merv charging down Mt. Grey Road to set the fastest time on SS6. The inner guard had parted company from the wheel arch and this was caused for even more concern and with Garry Cliff hot on his heels Merv had to work hard to retain the podium spot in what he described as “one of my most nerve wracking and enjoyable results in a while.”

The epic scrap for the win that was forecast unfortunately did not eventuate. Former Mainland Series champion, Mitsubishi Evo driver Wayne Muckle from Ashburton tipped the car on it’s side off the road in the second of the night stages and couldn’t continue. Number 1 seed John Silcock set the fastest time on SS1 but was forced to retire after breaking 4th gear in his Mitsubishi EVO VI. Deane Buist in his EVO IV broke something in the front differential and with the car pulling to the right quite badly he came over a crest and had trouble slowing down, and ended up parked off the road and with the diff problems the car wouldn’t drive properly in reverse, so he was there to stay, a DNF about 10kms into stage one. Apparently both Marchal Head and Stephen Peterson tried to run Deane over while he was parked there! It would have been great to see these drivers battle it out head to head but as luck would have it, this was not to be.

Garry Cliff was taking a break from the classic class and had the Evo out for a serious go at the Canterbury Rally crown. Like many others he was slowed by the dust during the night. The car slide a bit wide into a ditch in SS3 but drove out and continued, and spun on SS7 but otherwise he enjoyed the rally. It is his 30th year of rallying, Garry’s first event was also in the Ashley Forest and along with many of the more experienced competitors, was driving like the trees looked familiar and wowed the spectators with some very fast rally action. Lincoln’s John Giltrap went off the road and got stuck in SS1. Greymouth’s Tracey Mann in the Mitsubishi Evo I was quick all rally, the car was going well and he was taking the fight to the newer machinery with aplomb, finishing in a fine 5th overall. Ryan Berry’s potent four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Mirage was unfortunately withdrawn before the event began.

The first stage of the Autosport Club’s premier event was a true zetka-fest as it seemed every tricky corner had claimed a victim, there were little glowing triangle warning signs everywhere! Regan and Nigel Ross had a nasty off into a bank at the very first intersection of SS1 and severely wrinkled the passenger’s side of the WRX. They were unfortunately unable to continue due to a suspected rib injury sustained by Nigel in the crash. Jason and Tracey Clark got caught out by the dust and an off camber open right, and slid into the ditch, beaching the car with most of it still on the road but just enough to stop the crew from being unable to push it free. They rejoined on day 2 and set some great times, with the DX-4AGE inside the top ten on stage 4 the highlight of the day for the Christchurch pair. Wade Henshaw retired with a broken diff pinion adn Neville Kidd was parked with the bonnet up, a mysterious loss of electrical power would see them work on the car at service to get it going for the next day. He and co-driver Gareth Irwin in the Starlet put in some good times on day 2 that would have seen them well in the hunt for the class E podium if they had not had to withdraw the night before. David Fletcher’s alternator failed half way through the first stage and with the Corolla having no power to drive up a steep hill he had to withdraw, although knight with shining ex-police lights Alec Doig fixed the diode problem at 11m30pm, enabling the TeamRFR crew to return for day 2. Legendary service from the Rangiora AA man! Derek Ayson and Andrew Graves from Clinton had an off that saw the Nissan powered Escort beached in the water table in SS1. By the time they were extracted from the ditch they had used up all their lateness time and were out of the event. Like many others they rejoined on the second day and set some great stage times along the way. Wayne Julian didn’t make it into day 2 with the AE86 on the trailer and not returning after exiting the event in stage 1.

Don Mathias was flying. A too-close encounter with a tree (that apparently saved them from a much bigger off) on Saturday night bending the passenger door and front guard but otherwise not affecting the obvious speed of the Canary Furniture sponsored Starlet. A persistent engine misfire developing some distance into the stages didn’t stop him winning the 1300 class decisively yet again, Mathias’s aggressive style is certainly a hit with the spectators, and this time also earned him the first 2WD main class prize. Gwynn Gilmour from Dunedin had a great weekend in the Porsche 911, finishing second overall in SS5 and ending the event without drama placed 7th overall. Jeff Judd with a stoked Glen “Bart” Simpson in the silly seat were wowing the spectators throughout the event and finished in second placed 2WD car. The screaming BDA going sideways into the top of the Dunlop Sprint course at the end of the last stage was a sight to behold. Dave Pettigrew had a good run in his new-liveried Escort 4-AGE, although running out of brakes didn’t help matters much and he was forced to withdraw after stage 6. Hayden Paddon found a good turn of speed this rally, winning the 1600cc class in the Levin and setting some great times along the way. Barry Varcoe had a great run in his silver Starlet. Getting a bit agricultural at times saw various appendages disappear from the car but Barry’s smile throughout the day showed he was enjoying the rally. Luke Thelning had put a standard gearbox into the Corolla FXGT after the blowup at Otago and drove to finish this event, which he succeeded in accomplishing. Richard Scholes was running in his first rally and the Toyota Sprinter was certainly going well in places, the crew gradually coming to terms with the car and setting some good times later in the event. Greig Johnston with Denise Chandler sitting beside him, all the way from Arrowtown in the Mk 1 Ford Escort had a good run apart from a bent front strut in SS3.

Bruce and Nicole France had a disastrous weekend. The exhaust broke, then second gear disappeared early on day 2 and in revving the 4K hard to go from 1st to 3rd a valve decided to give up the ghost a few k’s into the Kowhai stage and their rally was over. David Fletcher and Andrew Reid came out to have a bit of fun on Sunday and were going a bit more sideways than usual through most of the event. While not good for the wee Corolla’s stage times it certainly looked like fun (until backing it in a bit much on the Dunlop sprint downhill section ended up with the car swapping ends but luckily still on the road). Paul Dickson stopped about 10kms into SS3 with a dead turbocharger in the Leone RX. Stewart and Andrew Bufton had a broken gearbox but continued, and were perhaps wishing they had not as the Starlet 4-AGE disappeared off the road in the Kowhai stage on the approach to Lake Janet. Hayden Spatcher’s rally ended with a hole in the FX-GT’s engine block, the terminal damage being sustained in the repeat of the Paringa stage at the top of the hill. Geoff and Gemma Bone had a great rally in the Mazda 323, charging through the forest and getting loose in places the pair were making the most of the conditions to score a very impressive 8th overall.

Nigel Marshall was chewing through Kumhos at a great rate of knots, with the car flying through the stages, by the end of a couple of tests the tyres on the rear were practically bald. Rallying on slicks can’t be good but the Wyndham Datsun 1200 driver was happy with how things had gone, although they did have gearbox issues which saw the crew working into the night on the first day to repair the transmission and re-fit it to the car for the second day. Steve Carr’s newly acquired ex- Shane Thornley RX-7 had a few tweaks to the suspension and other bits and was proving it had the goods but unfortunately the coil fried itself and the Carr car retired. This was lucky for rally debutant Ben Pankhust in Steve’s old RX7, a radiator swap seeing the latter able to continue with the rally after suffering big overheating problems. Ben had been going well, staying out of trouble and posting some good times for his first rally. Brendon Price’s Subaru Impreza was going well. A change to the diffs in the car and the growing confidence of the driver saw him the top placed “rookie”. While a bit tentative in the twisty bits the car certainly eats up the straights!

Barry Deuart secured a fine second place in the 1300cc class with a consistent drive. The gearbox sitting in their service area was only for looks as the Datsun 120Y completed all the stages without a problem. Nigel Milne had brought the AE85 up from the deep south and his co-driver Greg had switched marques and seats for this rally, his Datsun still ailing after it’s suspension took a beating in Southland, they finished in 21st overall. Kieron Telford running in his first event in his new Nissan Pulsar GTI-R was going steadily through the stages, with Shane Thornley calling directions. Rumour has it that Kieron had not seen a gravel road until moving to New Zealand from the UK a year or so ago so a forest rally is certainly a big challenge.

Andrew Sim and Tony Witheridge were comfortably leading their class until disaster struck in the very last stage, hooking down the hill the Corolla driver gave it a bit much welly and overshot a corner, beaching the car in the ditch. They spent 14 minutes there until David Fletcher’s Corolla came along and towed them out. Barry Mills and Craig Barclay from Balclutha in the deceptively quick Hillman Avenger took out the 0-1700cc classic class. Having not done a rally for a while, Richard Towse was cruising in the Sunny and having fun, ending the event in 17th overall. Dean Milligan drove the Lancer consistently well and ended up inside the top 10 overall by the end of the event.

Other notable retirements were Dermot Martin whose transmission failed and the car was trailered after stage 4, Bryce Biggs’s Escort RS1800 suffered differential failure after that stage also. Paul Dickson in the Subaru Leone RX did not finish SS3 and retired from the event. Steve Parker suffered a puncture on the first stage of the event and was clawing his way back up the timesheets when a mechanical failure on SS6 saw his rally end. Jim and Tima Smale all the way form Gore in the Suzuki Baleno retired with gearbox failure while touring after SS3. Stephen Petersen had used up all his lateness time after getting stuck off the road in SS2 and was out of the event, so the exclusion on the second day for servicing their broken driveshaft outside the service park was an enforcement of the rules with no bearing on the result.

The event was based entirely at the Rangiora show grounds and this proved very popular with competitors, service crews, and spectators alike. It was easy for service crews to get into the forest and see some action, which is always good. This year’s rally was observed by Motorsport New Zealand, who will decide whether it is good enough to once again be considered to be included as a round of the national championship. The history of the national championship has roots in Canterbury, where the first ever official national championship rally was run by a consortium of car clubs from the region back on May 3 and 4 1975. The classic section of this rally was missing the historic first winner in 1975, a Mazda RX-3, but the gaggle of RX-7’s made up a good rotary contingent to contest the stages and were driven well.

A huge vote of thanks goes to all the organisers, stage crews, marshalls, timing crews, communications people, and all the others who made this fantastic event run smoothly.