Well, were do I begin? What an event!
It was decided back in August 2017 at a rallysprint convenors meeting that the 2018 season would be brought forward to try and avoid the winter weather conditions that caused havoc with the 2017 series. It was an unusual decision that raised a few eyebrows and one that could well backfire. The first round of the 2018 series was due to kick off at Trigg Rd. in Huntly on the 10th December 2017, It did not happen, due to a council mix up.
At that same meeting all clubs put their dates on the table, all was agreed and with the first round not making it, the second round now became the opening round of the 2018 series, and what a beauty, Ruarangi Road. Hosted by the Northland Car Club this has always been a great event, the road is simply one of the best stretches of gravel road any were in New Zealand, many will disagree until they have done it! It is simply a Rollercoaster Road, one that requires immense bravery to be competitive.
The major concerns regarding moving the season forward was that people would not have time to fix up their cars from their previous campaigns, especially with the major holiday season just finishing, well what a load of rubbish. Just short of 60 cars turned up to start this event with 49 drivers signing up for the series and 25 signing up for the Suspension Tech co-drivers series, that’s 74 competitors in total, quite amazing for a clubman’s series.
The next hurdle was one that caused havoc last season, the weather. We are slap bang in the middle of summer, we have just had a spell of stunning weather but wouldn’t you know it……rain was forecast for this weekend, unbelievable! We had some decent showers in the week prior to the event, they cleared but with Ruarangi rd. being along the ridgetops it does dry out pretty quickly and at this stage nothing was of any concern, Sundays forecast was of more concern…..rain. It did rain, mostly light drizzle with plenty of breaks in between, the wind was warm and so once again it was of little concern, more an irritation.
The event was superb, the road amazing and the commitment and pace of all crews was incredible, however, the event did finish under a bit of a cloud with quite a bit of controversy, we will return to that later but it has effected this report as I can only go of what we witnessed throughout the event and what the timecards say.
So, to the action and how the day wet. As mentioned above the pace was incredible, absolutely incredible, every crew should be proud of what they achieved and I think there was only one minor off recorded when Brendon Oakden crossed the finishing line a little too quickly, as it was the finish line his time was still a good one and did not affect his position, rear quarter panel damage to his trusty Subaru was sustained, but nothing major. Although several crews did have moments and scared themselves silly, some of those crests testing both drivers and co-drivers to their limits.
This event can be run in both directions, the Northland Car Club often change from year to year, this year we are running “clockwise “often a more favoured option from the drivers as it’s deemed a little safer and flows a little better.
So, to the much anticipated first run of the 2018 Series. Reigning champion Graham Featherstone was first on the road, and as mentioned above his commitment and speed was second to none, you would not think that this was his first run for quite some time, several other competitors throughout the classes were as impressive. Matt Jensen has competed on the odd event within the series over the past few years but today he signed up and must be one of the favourite to put the pressure on Feathers, again he was extremely impressive on his first pass. Next on the road was Carl Davies in the Toyota AP4 car, fingers crossed he can sort out last season’s teething problems, judging by todays performance I’d say things are moving in the right direction. Now if I had to give a 10 from 10 to anyone for commitment on this first run it would go to two guys, one I’ll get back to in a moment but the other was the next guy on the road. He’s no stranger to this event, or this series but today he really was driving out of his skin, Warwick Redfern, a three times rallysprint champion and looking like he wants no 4. Last season Warwick was running the ex-Dylan Turner Evo, it took some time to adjust and fine tune man and machine, but I think he’s there. Completing the top five starters was local guy Bevan Wilson in his home built special BMW triple Rotary 4wd, and a little like Warwick he’s had to spend plenty of seat time developing, adjusting, re-developing and so on until he’s got it just right to be in a position to top challenge for some top results, again judging by his speed on this first pass he’s there.
There were many other impressive drivers just as committed as our top five runners throughout the various classes, but as I mentioned above there was another 10 from 10 on this first pass. Richard Harding, running a MK2 Rotary Escort in the classic class was awesome, I believe he did have a spin at the spectator point but his style and commitment was pure Escort vintage from the old works days. We will continue with class H now that were here.
This event we have seven entered for the class, with all being registered for the series. We have a Rotary powered Mk1 & Mk2 Escort, an RX7, a BMW 2002, a pinto powered 2 litre MK2 Escort, a very smart MK1 GT Cortina being piloted by Chris Alexander of Suspension Tech, sponsors of our Co-drivers championship, and a complete newcomer to the series, Brian Best in a superb Mk1 Escort V8.
I’ll not beat around the bush with this class as Richard was simply on fire and was a comfortable 10 seconds per run quicker than the rest of the chasing pack, hence a class H victory and a very creditable 10th overall. It was the other MK2 Escort of Barry Gibbs who led the chasers, again watching out on the stage Barry does not lack commitment, throwing the car around in similar style to Richard. The power of the Rotary V’s Pinto perhaps having a significant edge, especially at such an event as Ruarangi Road. Gary Wainwright took 3rd in class in his RX7, and was not far off Barry’s pace, just a couple of seconds between them all day.
Craig Tickle, BMW, Rob Connell Rotary MK1 Escort, Brian Best MK1 V8 Escort and Chris Alexander in the Cortina came in this order, all picking up valuable points for the series and with five more to go it’s very encouraging to see that there’s going to be plenty of battles to come in the classics this season.
Keeping with the classics we move onto G Class for 4wd classics. This was introduced last season as a trail class to fall into line with some of the rallies. It’s not been a massive overnight sensation but there’s still sufficient interest to give it another go this season, and we have 4 signed up at this stage for the series, today’s event had 6 in total running in the class. Local lad Brendon Oakden was the pacesetter here in his Impreza, leading the class by quite some margin on every run. However he almost threw it all away on the fourth run, going off over the finish line, the car survived albeit with some rear quarter panel damage, nothing too major which allowed him into the top 2 run off against the Celica GT4 of Kevin Bennet. Oakden maintained his pace here to take the class victory, and such was his pace, combined with the rallysprint elimination process this also gave him a 2nd overall. 3rd in the G Class was another local guy in his first ever rallysprint, so a very creditable result for Steve Hart in an impreza. Grant , Mitsi Evo took 4th, but with Hart not registered to the series Agnew nets 3rd in class for the series points. Another registered driver took 5th in class on his first time out in a 4wd. Paul fraser normally runs the very smart ex-Rossendale BDA Escort, but on his bucket list is a little rallying in a 4wd, so today he was out in a Mitsi VR4, electrical problems caused a DNF on the third run, ending his day. Richard Gore brought his Evo home in 6th in class.
Unfortunately, and very disappointing class A has so far only one registered driver, that being Chris Clark in a Starlet, I know there’s a few others still to register and a date clash for our Class A champion Mark Bradley unfortunately caused him to miss this event, he should be back on board for round 2. Chris did manage to complete all runs and take maximum points for the series, beating a few cars in classes above him. But the real benefit here is that although it’s only round 1 it now puts the pressure on Mark Bradley. Chris and his starlet are normally very consistent campaigners and should they go on to finish all events then with the points structure the way it is it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to catch him…….watch this space!!
Class B, what a great turnout, 12 cars at today’s event with 10 of them registered for the series, so this one’s looking like it’s going to be super competitive season. Anyone running in class B that see’s the name Scott Ogle on the entry list knows what’s in store, especially up here at Ruarangi Road. I’ll not beat around the bush, but if you can match Scott you know you’ll be picking up trophies, points and will have had a great day. To say he’s fast is an understatement, the first run and he was fastest overall, quite a feat in a pretty basic 1600 Starlet. He’s registered to the series and with round 2 being based in the Northland area it’s a pretty fair call to say he’s not going to be beaten there. But, this is a series, were consistency pays off, nothings certain and with 5 rounds to go I’m sure come the end of the season things will be very tight in this class. Russell Jenkins, again in a Starlet took 2nd in class, nudging Scotts father, Brian out of the way by just 3/10ths of a second. This battle, Jenkins V’s Ogle senior was perhaps the best scrap of the day within the competition. Russell stormed ahead opening a lead of 5 seconds, only to have Brian close the gap on every run till it came down to that fourth run were the top two was to be determined, as eluded to above 3/10ths of a second separated them at this stage, quite unbelievable, we could have had an Ogle V’s Ogle run off. But it does not end there, in fourth place was Andrew Philips with his Toyota Levin, being co driven by Todd Ogle, who ironically is building a Levin himself…..who knows how class B will look at next years event?
With having so many registered competitors in this class it’s certainly going to make the season interesting and consitenancy will be the key word. Those competitors travelling up from further down country to this event, and hopefully round 2 will certainly be putting themselves in strong positions for the rest of the season. It was great to see the Motorsport Bay of plenty have john –Paul and Kristi Van Der Meys make the long trip North with their Honda CRX. The Thames Valley Car Club was also very well represented. I must mention the starlet crew of Michelle Brunt and Waverly Jones, it’s been a long time, infact I don’t ever remember seeing an all-female crew in the rallysprint series before, there’s plenty of experience here as both ladies are well experienced within the sport as co-drivers. A mention also for LuKas Ramsay and Bryn Jones, both very young lads making their debut seasons in the series, so well done and good luck for the rest of the series.
Class C. Grant Liston has dominated this class over the last few years and with no disrespect to any other class C runners his task this year has been made a little easier with the deflection to class D by Charlie Evans. At today’s event Grant did have some pretty good competition within the class, Alan Strong, Nissan Sunny and Chris Ramsay, Corolla are both pretty quick drivers. “Rambo” has not seen this road for years, maybe even his first time, he did get a fair look at it though as he was also co driving for his young fella, LuKas. Alan is a local and has been over this road many, many times. However neither of them are registered to the series, therefore easing the competition on Grant. The gaps on the first couple of runs were quite enough not to trouble Grant, but the 3rd run saw Strong get a little too close for comfort, causing Grant to put the pedal to the metal a little more on the 4th run. This run saw Strong improve yet another 8 seconds from his previous one, Grant was still too quick, although it makes the top two run off a little more interesting. Could Alan put enough pressure on grant to cause a mistake? Out on stage you couldn’t pick anything visually between them, Grant was his usual neat, tidy and very precise, as was Strong but you could see that he was trying just that little bit more than the previous runs, a touch more aggressive into and out of the junction. As the times stopped Alan was the closest he’d been all day to Grant, but still just not quite enough. Grant’s time was 3.44.8, Alan’s 3.48.0. Rambo had to settle for 3rd in Class.
But, as mentioned neither 2nd nor 3rd placings at today’s event meant very little to the series contenders, which means the Hamilton crew of Ethan & Shayne O’Hagan, who came in 4th in class in their Corolla actually picked up some very valuable points for 2nd in the series class. John Whooley, Honda Civic took the points for 3rd, after finishing just behind the O’Shanes. Again, this class has plenty of competitors in, and finishing behind the guys mentioned above we had Tim Hood, Starlet. Daniel Alexander, Starlet. Harvey Semmens, Escort mk1, and Ray Chubb, BMW 318Ti, all registered to the series.
Class D, and what class at today’s round, just look at some of those names, especially the top 6, Charlie Evans, Anthony Jones, Doug Adnitt, Steve Goodare, Barry Armiger and Dave Strong. Who could pick a winner out of these, plenty of talent and plenty of extremely well prepared cars. Apart from Armiger all are registered to the series, plus another four in this class are also registered, so that’s 10 in the class, with 9 registered, making for another very interesting and competitive class for the series.
Steve Goodare, Nissan Sunny, made a welcome return to the series and started off with a fastest time of the class on the first run, although a moment very close to the start line almost cost him dearly (caught on Tracy’s footage, I missed it, as I was running, Steve has a history of trying to run me down….nothing has changed). Charlie Evans, RX7, was also very wide on the same bend, almost clipping the fence on the exit. Barry Armiger, RX7 was the nearest to Steve just 1 second adrift. Run 2 was basically the same, both these guys under the 4 minute mark, it was not until the 3rd run did anyone else break that 4 minute barrier, that being Dave Strong with his Honda Civic type R. Unbelievable both Steve & Barry actually tied on this run. Charlie Evans was struggling a little to now match the pace, however this is rallysprinting and Charlie is a cunning old buggar, I guess another word could be experienced, he is a past champion and knows all about the elimination process. We are now approaching the 4th run, were the two fastest proceed to the top two run off to determine who takes the class victory. It was this run were Charlie played his joker, breaking the 4 minute barrier, infact smashing it, leap frogging both Armiger and Strong to secure the run off spot against Steve.
Charlie’s previous best was a 3:48.7. Now I’m not sure what happened, if anything, but once again Charlie improved by another 7 seconds, were Steve actually dropped almost 10 seconds giving Charlie a well-earned class Victory and 12th overall. Barry Armiger held off Dave Strong to take 3rd in class on the day, but not being registered to the series this gave Dave Strong the points for the series. Doug Adnitt took 5th, with Anthony Jones 6th. All other finishers were also registered to the series, so although not really featuring in the podium spots there’s going to be great competition come mid-way through the season once the points start getting allocated, you won’t want to miss a round as this class is going to be very competitive.
So, back to the Class E, and overall spots. As mentioned earlier in this report some of these guys were on fire with their pace, and this is where a little confusion creeped into the event, times were not matching up. It’s still not 100% clear as to exactly what happened but a few competitors were not happy, and this is where I’m going to leave it as there are procedures and rules to follow in such circumstances. We will stick to the results supplied by the organisers and what actually happened on the day. All I can add is that I hope in future guys pay more attention, Prize giving is part of the event, putting your car on the trailer and going home, and then complaining a few days later is not the correct procedure.
So back to the action, the 4 minute barrier on this road seems to be the target, if you’re under this you’re going pretty well. Warwick Redfern, Evo 8 and Karl Adnitt, RX8 4wd were the only ones to do so on the first run in this class, a couple of the 2wd guys managed to do this, showing that perhaps a few of the class E guys were caught napping. However, this was a wake up call for them. Run 2 saw a few more make the cut, Graham Featherstone and Carl Davies were added to the list, great to see Carl now challenging for the fastest times, last season was a difficult time for Carl, development with the Toyota AP4 proving costly and frustrating, let’s hope this season proves more rewarding.
It was this run 2 that seemed to be the “Trouble area”. Rallysprint is an elimination competition and as I mentioned above a few 2wd guys were really pedalling hard, setting times that were mixing it with the class E guys, thus when the overall elimination process started dwindling down (16-8-4-2) several guys uncharacteristically missed out. These guys however were still well in contention for class positions, so all was not lost!
The competition carried on, with Warwick posting the fastest time of the field on the 3rd run, followed by feathers then Matt Jensen in his Evo, Carl Davies and Carl Adnitt rounding off the top 5. So we are now heading into the 4th run were the two quickest runners of this class will proceed to the top two run off for the grand final….!!….of the class.
For the overall win we have Graham Featherstone (as he was the fastest on the 4th run) V’s a Class G driver, that being Brendon Oakden. Rather a strange scenario and one I have never come across before, but there you go! Making the class E run off up against feathers was Warwick, Feathers posting a 3: 38.4 against Warwicks 3:39.4.
So a bit of a strange one. Warwick drove his arse off, looking either really committed or really pissed off, whichever, it was not quite enough. He posted a 3:34.3, against Feathers time of 3:34.1….unbelievable, extremely close and fantastic to watch out on the stage. Incidentally, Brendan Oakdens time up against Feathers for the overall was 3:44.1….some 10 seconds adrift, and 9 seconds adrift of Warwick….!!!
Now, to summarise this event, it was in fairness an absolutely brilliant occasion, extremely well supported, a stunning location, well organised, albeit with a little grey area, plenty of spectators at the junction, in fact for the level of competition you could not wish for better.
What is apparent, are the standards that are being set, the series is growing, and it is without doubt becoming very competitive. We now have more females becoming involved due to the co-drivers championship, (Thanks to Suspension Tech) and all in all it is THE BEST it’s been for quite a few years. We need to keep developing and improving, and now that we have a co-drivers series I hope the co drivers can be a little more vigilant and not only steer their drivers around the stage but also check out their times more thoroughly and follow through on procedures if they feel times are wrong, it’s not uncommon to have re-runs as incidents, accidents and general mistakes are occasionally made.