29 May – Mt Thomas Sprint

The NW’er clouds over the foothills looked a bit ominous but thankfully the event started in the dry. The road was a bit slippy to start with, as Les Summerfield found when he rolled the yellow Corolla quite a wee way off the road in the first run) but as the line wore in throughout the day the grip got better. The outcome of the event was affected by the late downpour however, with Wayne Julian running on the slickened track pipped at the post by Stu Weeber who got a dry last run (but we don’t like to blame the weather!). All water aside, it was a good performance by the Stubaru driver, taking his second sprint win of the year by about a second. The battle for second place was interesting, with a charging Chris Hughes coming within a tenth of a second from Julian. Jeff Judd had the pop-and-bang ex-Greg Graham WRX flying off the start line in his first gravel drive in the car, and came within a second of a podium spot. The next two spots were close too with Matt King in his WRX and Matt Jansen driving his Dad’s Pulsar GTiR separated by less than a second. Jansen Junior winning the first of the father-son contests of the day in a good drive on the heels of piloting the car for a run at Race To The Sky.

Groove McCallum won this event last year but the conditions were a bit different this year and the 4WDs dominated. McCallum was top 2WD which was enough to keep him reasonably happy. Tom Penrose was all smiles as he likes this bit of road although he’d have been happier further up from the bottom step of the Class 2 podium. Blair Logan took the class by a second from Andrew Sim after a very closely fought battle between the two (as usual!) all day. The three were second, third, and fourth 2WDs on the day as well, Logan less than a second behind top 2WD. Ryan Berry in the 323 GTX was a bit off his usual hot pace. Stewart Bufton won another father-son billing with a convincing 12th overall and 2 second (almost convincing!) lead over Andrew in 16th. Luke Thelning had the ex-Geoff Argyle Pulsar GTiR out for the first time and was in “get used to it and don’t crash it” mode. Shane McKenzie improved 8 seconds throughout the day which is no mean feat in this stretch of forest and scored 14th overall and 5th in class 2. Paul Jansen’s back was giving him jip (the explanation of the surgery he’s going to get for it makes you almost feel it yourself!) and he was just out to have a bit of fun. Ben Bodley had his older Mazda 323 (BMFR shape) in it’s first event on gravel and did well to keep it all together, improving around 6 seconds over the day. Pete Abernethy’s Starlet is a bit down on grunt compared with some others in his class but he managed to shave a whopping 12 seconds off his run 1 time by run three so he’s gotta be happy with that.

Barry Deuart continues to do well in the sprint series, his Datsun 120Y taking out the small car class. This could be attributed to the amount of bog and several layers of paint and duct tape being removed, both improving power-to-weight and aerodynamics. More likely however is actually the fact that he is driving the pants off the wee car, his explanation that he was scaring himself a lot more attests to that. Josh Marston was a distant 5s off Deuart’s pace and spectators report that at one point near the end of the course he had tried to rearrange the bodywork on the car again. This is yet to be confirmed from the horses mouth, and as Nick Marston was also driving the car it may take some time to sort out which driver it was. Graham Wilson was using the opportunity to take a few of the Rangiora Rotary marshalls for thoroughly deserved rides in his Starlet, and unfortunately as he had two entries the “only first three runs count” rule applied although he wasn’t informed of this and even in “for ze fun” mode he managed third in class.

Murray Lancaster had a good day to get second in the big 2WD class in the 323, less than half a second clear of Richard Towse in the Sunny. It goes to show how hard it is to organise and be responsible for the event on the day, and compete as well, with the Sunny’s bonnet clips somehow not fastening themselves before a run. Our intrepid C of C got a re-run for that one! Tony Foster was back on the horse after his wee oops at Hanmer and stayed out of trouble, Rex Ford is showing good style in the 180B and climbs a bit more up the scoreboard with each event that goes by. John Weir sounded like he overcooked it a bit in the revs department on the start line of run 2 and the Honda was withdrawn. Shane Thornley was having a bit of an off day but was still smiling, his times not quite up where he usually is so we await the return of his right foot at Tarn Road. Kevin Knowles was back in action after a bit of a break and had a 10 second improvement throughout the day, the saying “it’s just like riding a bike” does not really apply to rally sprinting (and not to many bike riding styles these days either!). Peter Quinn’s car stopped during run 3 and was recovered from the course. His 4-second improvement between runs 1 and 2 was a good start and it was a shame to not see him better that in run 3. Andrew Allan in the 2WD Lancer and Nick Marston in the Starlet were locked on the timesheets after run 2, Allan just doing enough to take that fight by just over a second. Jamie Powell took the honours in the final father-son dust-up, with Peter 5 seconds adrift but consoled by the fact that Jamie’s had a few more gravel miles in the Starlet. Autocross stalwart Rhys Ellison had put a cage in the WRC Fraud Focus a.k.a. Vauxhall Chevette and with standard engine and suspension completed his first gravel sprint without damage and with plenty of plans to go faster.

Dave Fletcher went all of 500m in run 1 before being hauled out on the end of a tow rope with the Suzuki blowing it’s ignition fuse (and progressively stronger fuses as well!) and the cause of the fault was not to be found on the day. Many stayed and helped (or spectated) at the extraction of Les Summerfield’s Corolla. Luckily Les’s Dad lives close by the event and has heavy machinery. The prizegiving kicked off after the recovery of said Corolla, in the ad break for the rally coverage on the big screen, great timing!

Thanks to Richard Towse for organising the event, setting up the event and being C of C on the day. Thanks to Stewart Bufton for helping organise the event and the timing gear, and towing the dunny with the club van. Thanks to David Fletcher for pre-event and post-event paperwork along with operating the timing computer and helping run the event rather than fixing his car! Thanks to Michelle Reid and Kieron Telford for documentation, John Weir, Robert McCallum and Les Summerfield for scrutineering, Andrew Sim for helping run the event, and a big thanks to the Southbrook Hotel for letting us invade the place for prize giving. Also, without Carter Holt Harvey and NZ Private Fire we couldn’t get access to the forest, a huge thanks to them.