Husband and wife team dominate the eventful Catlins Coast Rally
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The husband-and-wife team of Garet and Gemma Thomas from the Canterbury town of Darfield survived an eventful Catlins Coast Rally on Saturday to achieve dual success at the annual mid-winter Eastern Southland event.
The Thomas’ led home fellow Canterbury driver Job Quantock (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo8) after a shake-up of the order in the final two stages of the rally to win the event and secure the Mainland Rally Series title for 2019.
For much of Saturday’s rally in cold and damp conditions it was Gore’s Andrew Graves (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo3) who looked to be on target to claim his fifth Catlins victory.
Top-seed Graves built a lead of 20secs over Rangiora’s Matt Summerfield which was extended when Summerfield lost a big chunk of time when he slipped off the road and got his Subaru Impreza stuck in the fourth stage.
But Graves was the next front-runner to strike trouble when his Mitsubishi lost a wheel, hit a fence and was forced to retire. That handed the lead to the front-wheel-drive Volkswagen Golf GTI of Deane Buist (Christchurch) who held a 25.5secs margin over Carter Strang (Wallacetown) in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6 with a 24km final stage remaining.
But just as rally buffs were delving into the record books seeking an answer to the last time a New Zealand gravel event might have been won by a front-wheel-drive car, there were further twists in the Catlins story.
Buist’s winning chance was lost with an electrical problem which caused an eight-minute delay in the final stage and dropped him to 18th place. And Strang’s rally was also ended with final stage transmission problems.
That promoted Thomas from third spot to the top of the leader board to take the rally win with a 17.3secs margin over Quantock.
Balclutha’s Dean Bond (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6.5) finished third ahead of Subaru drivers Sean Haggerty (Ohoka) and Matthew Wright (Christchurch) who completed the top-five while the leading 2WD class competitor was Kaikoura’s Regan Ross in his Ford Escort RS 1800 who was sixth and edged Christchurch driver Jeff Judd (Ford Escort) by 29.4secs.
The Catlins Coast Rally was the final round of a shortened 2019 Mainland Rally Series with the Hanmer Forest Rally scheduled for August 31 having been cancelled. Thomas has won the Mainland title by a single point from Job Quantock with Christchurch driver Josh Marston (Holden Barina AP4) in third place.