The final round of the 2003 Autosport Club sprint series was held on a sunny day in picturesque North-Canterbury with a smaller than expected field of 32 drivers taking to the course. Considering the amount of rain in the region of late the road was in pretty good condition, firm and fast in some places with a few slippery bits to catch out the unwary. The course was shortened from last year, with the finish placed just before the ford, as it was deemed that cars at race pace would have torn the road exiting the ford to pieces and the road repair bill would not have been too cheap!
The first run saw Merv Hatcher signal his intentions with a time 5s clear of Brent Buist in the blue BDA. Merv was out to extend his lead in the club championship and if this run was any indication, he meant business. As it turned out, the pace of his first run would be good enough to win the event outright, and Hatcher showed good consistency to claim maximum points by holding the other competitors at arms length in all three runs. Well done Merv! Grant Fisher was extracting good pace from the 323 to lie in 3rd after run 1, but a wee moment in run three saw him slip to fourth overall at the end of the day. The first appearance at one of our sprints of a bright yellow Evo 6 was a talking point, Sean Gray from the North Island has moved to Christchurch and looks set to take on the established Canterbury hotshots in club events. Sean slotted into a solid fourth place after run 1, but got used to the conditions well throughout the day and got within 2 seconds of Hatcher to claim second place overall for the event.
The big 2WDs were led all the way by the Bertbuilt BDA but the scrap for the other podium places in the class was between Geoff Bone driving the ex-Deane Buist Corolla for the first time (literally, even on the test drive Deane did all the driving; “It was like he was saying goodbye, I didn’t want to interrupt!” said Geoff), and Richard Towse, enjoying a good day in the Sunny. The two traded seconds throughout the three runs, with Towse getting the better of Bone by less than a second. Tony Morrison was sharing John Weir’s Accord for the day, and the rare outing for the Canary Furniture head honcho proved a good one, Morrison in a head to head battle all day with Wayne Julian in the AE86 and Jason Clark in the Corolla DX-4AGE. Clark pulled out a blinder in run 3, putting it all on the line and charging through the road to post a time one and a half seconds ahead of Morrison and claiming 5th overall, 2nd of the 2WD cars to finish! An outstanding performance considering how little shingle time Jason has had of late. Morrison wasn’t giving up though, he had the hammer down, perhaps a little too hard as he managed to separate the rear bumper of the Accord from the body on a fence and that lost time may have cost him the class win. Wayne Julian had the neat Corolla Sprinter less than a second behind Morrison in 3rd in the class. The three in the class finishing 5th, 6th and 7th overall. In the 0-1300cc class, Stephen Petersen took 8th overall in the event and first in the class in his potent FWD Starlet. Interestingly it was his first run that was to be his fastest, but only by a whisker. Don Mathias was catching Petersen throughout the day and came within a second-and-a-half of the more modern Starlet to be second in the class. Grant Goile was third, a couple of seconds behind Mathias.
Among the other competitors enjoying the great bit of road were John Weir who finished 4th in the mid-sized engine class; Chris Hughes finished mid-field in the Evo 2, showing good improvement between first and second runs and gaining more speed and experience; Marchal Head’s first time at this event saw him finish a second ahead of Luke Thelning’s Corolla with Luke trying to catch the RWD Corolla throughout the day but not quite getting there. James Holder improved 5 seconds throughout the day, and was sharing the Corolla with his 14 year old brother David, who was in his first gravel sprint event and improved 30 seconds over the three runs to take the rookie award for the day. Brent Sibley was all smiles, enjoying the runs in the Escort and still taking taunts about finding the right side of the hills this year! Peter Quinn improved 8 seconds between first and last runs in the AE86, Kevin Hobson saw his times improve nearly 10 seconds over the event also, sharing the Corolla with Wayne Julian. Kieron Telford had a tentative start in the Pulsar GTiR but got into the swing of things knocking 18 seconds off his run one time in the following cracks at the road. Steve Carr was seen among the spectators and had a spin of the wheels, even if it was just in his Falcon trying to extract it from the grass verge! Word is that Steve’s replacement RX-7 is underway, so hopefully it won’t be too long before he’s out amongst it again. Crusty Buist arrived for a look near the end of the day and was reluctant to take the Falcon for a skid, apparently he was uncharacteristically tentative in the big car but according to some onlookers who shall remain nameless, washing cars is not Crusty’s forte so perhaps he just didn’t want to get it too dirty. Jo Giles was out for a look and managed to score a run in the passengers seat, apparently her first ride on the left side and she thoroughly enjoyed herself.
There was some hard luck in the event also. First mishap for the day went to Barry Deuart whose transit holed a float in the carb and ground to a halt on the way to the event. A diagnosis by Brent Buist saw Barry make it to the start line on time, and he had a good day (if you don’t count the still-troublesome gearbox). First retirement of the day was Royce Watson who suspected the Corolla had loosened the flywheel bolts or run a bearing in the indian file. Next was Scott Reid who had the water pump fail in the 4-AGE powered Escort in run 1, and without a replacement he was forced to call it quits. Some were heard to say that the cause was the Eccy rejecting the transplant! Anthony Reed had a nasty collision head on with a post just before the finish, the car in the road forcing Don Mathias to play thread the needle at 80 kph between the stricken orange Starlet and the other strainer post. Anthony was shaken but unhurt, the car had a fair shunt and the front left was pretty pushed in. Ben Pankhurst had a rear suspension arm break and it was hanging from the bottom of the RX-7. With no spare he trailered the car and sat out run 3. He’d done enough to score some club points in 21st overall. In other “Minties moments”, in run 1 Josh Marston was the latest on the brakes going into the first bridge and put on a bit of a show because of it. The Starlet was gathered in with a hair’s breadth to spare and finished the run with no further incident. Dave Fletcher filled a rear rim with stones after going wide on the tight-ish right before the stone wall in run 2, hitting a small bank and tipping the Corolla onto two wheels but surviving and finishing the run. Andy Reid had a half spin on the first corner in his second run, as did Grant Restall. Reid and Fletcher driving the same car came within a quarter second of each other at the end of the day, Fletcher pipping Reid for 4th in the small car class.
The prize giving was held at the very pleasant Greta Valley Hotel. The baskets of hot chips were excellent. It’s the first time we’ve seen someone do a wee dance on his way to receive a trophy but Geoff Bone was obviously happy with both his performance and the performance of the recently acquired National 2WD championship winning Toyota Corolla. “I’m not used to coming up here” said Geoff.. “The car’s not used to coming third” quipped Crusty.
The results came out as follows:
Merv Hatcher (Lancer RS) 2m42.90s – 1,
Shaun Gray (EVO 6) 2m45.53s – 2,
Brent Buist (Ford Escort BDA) 2m46.91s – 3.
Merv Hatcher (Lancer RS) 2m42.90s – 1,
Shaun Gray (EVO 6) 2m45.53s – 2,
Grant Fisher (Mazda 323 GTX) 2m53.78s – 3.
Brent Buist (Ford Escort BDA) 2m46.91s- 1,
Richard Towse (Datsun Sunny) 3m04.82s – 2,
Geoff Bone (Toyota Corolla) 3m05.20s – 3.
Jason Clark (Toyota Corolla) 2m56.74s – 1,
Tony Morrison (Honda Accord) 2m58.39s – 2,
Wayne Julian (Toyota AE86) 2m59.65s – 3.
Stephen Petersen (Toyota Starlet) 3m02.45s – 1.
Don Mathias (Toyota Starlet) 3m03.83s – 2.
Grant Goile (Toyota Corolla) 3m05.31s – 3.
As the day wound down a cold breeze signalled it was time to pack up and head for home. Most everyone had a great day and were well fed thanks to the Cheviot School’s food stand (we think they set up so far from the road in order to make people hungry walking over there!). Thanks firstly to Royce Watson and John Weir for scrutineering. A big thanks to Andrew Wells and Tony Witheridge for operating the timing, and to Derek Simpson for his Landcruiser’s towbar doing great work yet again. The “Sampan Warriors” dragon boat team received a big thanks for start line duties and marshalling. The club’s new radios passed an acid test on this event, with good communications throughout the course achieved by the Tait handhelds, thanks to Dave Fletcher for organsing those. Thanks to Nicole France and Michelle Reid for documentation, Huri Timothy for looking after the indemnity stamping. A big thanks to Aaron Scott for his efforts with the traffic management for the event, which necessitates a very early start to the day and saves the club considerable expense! Thanks to St. Johns from Culverden for providing the ambulance. Many thanks to the principal sponsors of the event, Rubber Developments Limited, and Barry Lindon Gear Cutting. Thanks also to the Greta Valley Hotel for hosting the prizegiving. Of course we are all very grateful for the efforts of Merv Hatcher and Don Mathias for organising the event. It’s a really fantastic bit of road and we look forward to returning to the valley next year.