Build it and they will come, as the movie says but all Andrew Sim and the Autosport Club had to do was organise it and they certainly did, with a great turnout of 58 drivers taking the opportunity to have a go at the recent Makerikeri Sprint near Rangiora. Whether it was a chance to check out the forest for the up coming Canterbury Rally, merely a chance to blow the cobwebs off, or the recent cancellations of key events combined with the long cold winter starving many of their diet of avgas and mud it must have been pleasing to see a fantastic turnout to what would prove to be a great day of racing.
Ironically with the recent bad weather, and as recent as the previous Fridays threatened snow falls, the Sunday dawned bright and clear albeit a little crunchy under foot, with a good frost coating the smooth mud of the car park. All that gathered to hear the official’s introduction speeches were also warned of the snow that still lay in the sheltered areas of the road…just to add to any pre event nerves!
As all drivers got a first look at the road with a Indian file, they got a chance to access the conditions and make their own judgement call as to approach both the snow covered tight areas and the fast flowing roads that came after to the finish, but also to decide what approach to take to the ford that crossed the road on the lower section. Take it quick and risk damage, take it slow and risk loss of too much time. A true mix of skill and bravery!
First to test their luck was Brad Harris from Rangiora, setting the pace with a 4.15.17; in one of the oldest model EVO’s in the field. With the advantage of having a loop road for drivers to make their way from the finish to the start line a few took the opportunity to double enter the event and get two runs staggered through out the field. Matt Jansen was one of these and his run through netted him a 4.20.67 seeded 6th on the road and obviously benefited from his trip as 30 places later he managed a 4.17.48. Not to be out done by the 4wd boys, Alec Doig in his V8 Escort set the forest a roar with the wonderful sound of the big V8 replacing the early morning bird song with a great first up effort. Doig was able to continue this good form throughout the day to finish with a 4.29.56 fastest and 15th overall.
Good first up times were also posted by Gary Cliff 4.22.70, Robert McCallum with a another fine effort his Escort at 4.23.74 (doing a fine impersonation of Hansel and Gretel by leaving a trail of tail light pieces in the forest to follow next time!), Matt King 4.23.63, and Fred Merkin back for a skid in a Subaru WRX with 4.25.72.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for everyone though with Merv Hatcher experiencing a high speed “reversing manoeuvre”, spinning his car on the fastest part of the stage in 5th gear in his Starion, but gathering it up to finish undamaged and with a 4.49.39. A quick change of tyres for the rears for the next run saw 6 seconds trimmed from this time but unfortunately a few mechanical problems meant that he had to retire and miss the last run of the day and not improve his final time of 4.43.84.
Another to have problems was Dean Schroeder in the RX7, not posting a first up time with fuel surge issues, but after some adjustments went on to improve his second run by 7 seconds to finish 45th overall.
Blair Logan also suffered early problems in his EVO4 with a differential problem sidelining him for the rest of the day. This would be disappointing in two ways as to have car problems so early into the first run is one thing but to miss such a good road and not finish the day would no doubt really be upsetting, and left Blair lamenting that funnily enough he never had this trouble in the Corolla?!
Also to have a wee moment was Matt King. After doing a great first up time of 4.23.63, he set about reducing this and in the process he angle parked the WRX down a small bank near the top of the hill. After an extraction no damage was sustained, and it certainly didn’t do anything for Matt’s confidence as on his last attempt he set 4.19.29, good enough to seal 7th overall.
Big mover of the day was young Josh Marston in his WRX sporting flash new livery. After a fairy conservative first run and over coming a slipping clutch, he set about improving this and dropped a massive 23 seconds on run two, and then backed it up with another 23 second drop on his last to finish with 4.12.87,beaten for 4th overall by Ryan Berry by only .39 of a second! An impressive drive from the youngster in only his third outing in this car. The bragging rites were well in truly in the younger Marstons favour as his father Leigh had a few issues with tyre selection, opting for a mud tyre for the second run and spinning.
Sticking with the same tyre for the third, and with the road now drying considerably from the first runs, this proved to be the wrong choice and again time was lost, finishing the day 13th overall and with a time of 4.25.06. This would surely lead to some interesting discussions around the Marston family dinner table!
An interesting battle developed in the small car class with a good tussle between, Grant Goile back in his Toyota SR Coupe, David Fletcher, Barry Deuart, and Graham Wilson in his Starlet. With the smaller engine 2 wheel drives not ideally suited to the first half of the road being uphill, they can make up time along the top fast flowing section as the bravery pills set in. Grant Goile obviously took extra pills as after not setting the fastest first up time, he managed to set a quick time of 4.45.05 on his second to secure the lead over the quartet. David Fletchers hard charging efforts in the Suzuki Gti paid dividends as he managed to trim nearly 6 seconds of run 1 to finish a mere 1.5 seconds behind Goile. The other two, Barry Deuart and Graham Wilson swapped times throughout the day to be one place apart, 41st and 42nd respectively but with only .11 of second difference between them.
Stacey Jeffrey had a touch of the “Merv Hatchers”, spinning the CRX on the same area of the top section of road, clearing some shrubbery in the process, but fortunately no damage was sustained, and Drew Jeffery’s effort are to applauded with a fine first up effort considering a recent round of Chemo therapy. A top effort and very pleasing to see some new competitors to the sport.
So the day belonged to Brad Harris with a stunning effort to take overall honours with a final time of 3.59.19, the difference being more than a second a kilometre greater than Matt Jansen in second (he also had the third fastest time running twice during the day) (4.08.74), Ryan Berry behind him (4.12.48) and Josh Marston (4.12.87) rounding out the top four.
Sadly with logging set to resume in the near future the club may not be able to host this event again for a while and with other changes in the wind regarding access to the forest the club will eagerly awaiting a opportunity to again use what is certainly a great road and a very popular event amongst the drivers.
Many thanks go to the Autosport club officials, countless volunteers on the day and to all that made a great days racing in the Canterbury forest.