Far North Rally goes down to the wire
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After a tight battle on Northland gravel roads, 2017 New Zealand rally champion Andrew Hawkeswood (Auckland) drove his title-winning Mazda2 AP4 car back into the winner’s circle on Saturday.
Making only their third appearance of the 2018 season, Hawkeswood and co-driver Jeff Cress claimed a narrow win over the new Ford Fiesta AP4 of Phil Campbell (Tauranga) and Mal Peden (Cambridge) in the Copthorne Bay of Islands Far North Rally.
Hawkeswood and Campbell swapped the lead during the eight-stage event. Hawkeswood won the opening stage at Ruapekapeka before Campbell took over the lead after stage two.
Campbell’s leading margin stretched to 15.3s after stage three before Hawkeswood began to trim Campbell’s advantage, edging back into the lead by 0.9s after stage six and taking the rally win by 3.9s when the event reached the finish at Waitangi.
“We had a few issues with the brakes in the first stage and with deep gravel but everyone will have had something like that,” said Hawkeswood. “I really enjoyed the rally and the fight with Phil. That’s what I love most about rallying — three or four drivers winning stages with the lead changing around, and being a part of that.”
There were also stage wins for Hamilton’s Stephen Barker (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6.5) and 2015 national champ Ben Hunt (Auckland), who was driving an older Subaru WRX STI rather than his usual NZRC mount.
Hunt finished in third place, 41.7s behind Hawkeswood and 11.7s ahead of Barker while fifth place went to Hamilton’s Brad McFarlane (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X).
Several of the top 10 seeds failed to finish. Raana Horan (Auckland) rolled his new Skoda Fabia R5, and damage from an off-road excursion also ended the rally for Auckland’s Patrick Malley (Peugeot 208 Proto) after stage two.
Tauranga’s Ben Thomasen retired his Subaru Impreza with gearbox problems while running in seventh place, and after a lengthy delay in stage four Hamilton’s Todd Bawden (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6) finished
24th having set several quick stage times.
There was also a close battle for 2WD honours. The podium was headed by 13th-placed McCrae Sloper (BMW 328i) ahead of Brent Taylor (Toyota FT 86) and Dave Strong (Honda Civic Type R) and separated by just 32.3s after 121km of competitive driving.
The Far North Rally was the third round of the Top Half northern region rally series. Remaining rounds are included in the Rally of Raglan Coast on October 13 and the Waitomo Rally, held in conjunction with the first day of the biennial Silver Fern marathon event on Saturday November 24.
McRae closes in on course record
Alister McRae powers through the top hairpin on his way to victory in the Ashley Forest Rallysprint. Photo / Geoff Ridder
West Australia-based Scotsman Alister McRae has become the first international winner of the Winmax Brakes Ashley Forest Rallysprint in North Canterbury.
McRae, a former Subaru, Hyundai and Mitsubishi WRC driver, outlasted the opposition in the Vantage Aluminium Subaru Impreza WRC 98 to win the final with a 55.35s run and come close to bettering the 54.96s course record set last year by Rotorua’s Sloan Cox.
It was a day of disappointment for the two other drawcard attractions at the 31st running of New Zealand’s best-known rally sprint.
WRC star Hayden Paddon (Wanaka) set the early pace and posted a 55.00s effort in the first elimination round but his bid to win the event ended when his much-modified Hyundai i20 AP4++ rally car suffered engine failure (the result of an oil filter problem) in the Top-16 run.
Sloan Cox had been sidelined earlier in the day with transmission issues in his Mitsubishi Lancer Hillclimb Special having set a fastest time of 56.02s.
The runner-up was Blenheim’s Neil Webb, a former New Zealand hillclimb champion, driving his Mitsubishi Mirage hatch that is equipped with Lancer Evo running gear. Webb improved with every run and posted an impressive 56.04s run in the final to better his best previous best Ashley Forest result of third overall in 2016.
There was a tight Subaru Impreza battle to decide third place in the semifinal round but Rangiora’s Matt Summerfield dipped under the one-minute barrier to record 59.67s and edge Darfield’s Garet Thomas by a difference measured in thousandths of a second.
2WD rally cancelled
The Taupo Classic Rally Club has cancelled its Clubmans format tarmac rally for two-wheel-drive cars. The event was scheduled to run this Sunday on a mixture of forest and public roads north of Taupo but the club says a lack of entries caused the cancellation.