BOTHWELL LOOP ROAD RALLYSPRINT.
Sunday 25th March, and the ABC Rallysprint series moved South to the Franklin district for the Pukekohe Car Club event, The Bothwell Loop Road Rallysprint. Yet another fantastic piece of New Zealand back country road, but one that differs completely from the two previous rounds. Gone were the fast ridge top crests, dips and flowing roads of Northland, now we are into the bush clad, twisty and more technical roads, which I’m sure will be a relief to many drivers who find the Northland roads rather daunting.
However, it certainly did not reflect in the entries, the Car Club must have been very pleased with 60 crews starting the event. On approach to the service area you would have thought that you were at a national rally championship round, such was the mass of rally cars and service vehicles, it looked stunning.
This event did not run last year due to being called off because of bad weather, it has a bit of a clay base on the latter part of the road which does cut up quite easily in wet conditions, so organisers must have been biting their nails in the week leading up to this event as it was raining……and quite a bit did fall from the sky, even on Saturday evening it was still raining. It was a brave decision to announce that it was all still on, and it proved a correct call as Sunday was perfect.
Although the road had not changed too much since it was last used (2016) the scenery had, with extensive logging in the first kilometre or so, allowing better views of approaching cars. Now I,ve just mentioned the change in character of road to the previous two rounds, and now I’m just about to eat my own words. The first few k’s are twisty and through forestry and that lush green bush, before coming out into a tight and twisty ridge top type road with stunning views out to sea. It does not last long before it speeds up, but, it has a couple of very nasty hazards just waiting to catch out anyone who’s not concentrating, once through here it’s a fast approach to a spectator bend, a 90 right then another twisty section, this time all downhill through the farmland and onto the finish.
Reigning champion, and winner of the first two rounds Graham Featherstone lead the field away in trusty Evo 7. Followed by an exceptionally talented field, Matt Jensen, Evo 9, Dylan Turner in his stunning Audi AP4, Warwick Redfern, Evo8, Charlie Evans RX7, Carl Adnitt, RX8 4wd, Grant Liston, Integra, Steve Goodare, Nissan Sunny, Dave Strong, Honda Civic, and so the list goes on. Any rally would be proud of an entry field like this. Once again, every class had enough competitors in to make them all very competitive, and when you consider we have seven classes, that is another huge plus for today’s event and the series.
I have omitted one name, that of Anthony Jones. Many of you who follow the national rally scene will know of his exploits in his mk2 Escort, well today was the debut of his new Escort…a Millington powered beast, it was stunning, a superb build and probably attracted the biggest crowd at scrutineering, I was certainly looking forward to seeing it in action.
Another superbly built car has also been attracting quite a bit of publicity recently was the 1300cc starlet of Steve Cox, making his first appearance at a rallysprint. For a 1300cc car it is said to pushing out quite a bit of horsepower, one for the regular class A runners to keep an eye on.
As were on the topic of Class A, we’ll carry on with rundown of the action in this class, four competitors were in attendance today. Last year’s champion, Mark Bradley was now under a bit of pressure due to missing round 1, then posting a DNF at round 2 due to an untraceable electric fault in his normally reliable 1200 Datsun. Chris Clarke took full advantage of this racking up two class wins in his Starlet, throw in the Starlets of Steve cox and young Josh Mckenzie and today’s competition was going to be interesting. Bradley nailed the first run, followed by Clark with McKenzie just nudging out Cox. Then run 2 saw a little drama, Clarke pulled up only a few hundred metres into the run with a vibration on the Starlet, he did drive out a few moments later but took no further part in the event, therefor handing all the points to Bradley as McKenzie & Cox are not registered to the series. Bradley maintained a comfortable lead for the rest of the runs but the two remaining Starlet pilots ended up having a real close battle, with McKenzie just pipping cox to take 2nd in class.
Fourteen class B runners makes this class super competitive, however current leader Scott Ogle was not attending. Russell Jenkins was the man in 2nd spot coming into this round but with last year’s champion Mike Goldsbury registering at this round this class battle was now going to become very interesting. The all-female crew of Michelle Brunt and Waverly Jones were now also creeping up the points table due to consistent results, Louis Prouting was also up there in his FX Corolla sitting in 3rd overall in this class. Lyndsay Homes was also another one to keep an eye in yet another starlet, as was Lukas Ramsey, in fact the list goes on. The scene was set from run one, and it was game on between Goldsbury and Jenkins, Toyota DX V’s Toyota Starlet. Goldsbury had the edge on the four runs with Jenkins just a few seconds adrift. But such is the nature of rallysprinting that this could just be a case of Jenkins playing it cool, knowing from the times of others that he was the only one putting the pressure on Goldsbury, could he pull one out of the bag in the top two run off. Well….he was certainly trying but unfortunately a case of sunstrike when just exiting the forest section caused him to misjudge a slight right, introducing the passenger side to the local scenery, causing enough damage to go no further, thus handing the class victory to Goldsbury. Lyndsay homes just piped Louis Prouting into 3rd, but not being registered it was Louis who took a handy haul of points. Michele Brunt took 5th in class.
Ten starters in class C, another very competitive class and no doubt the battle of this class was Grant Liston v’s Craig Stevens. These two are very close and as always produce times that normally put them way ahead of fellow class contenders as they become involved in their personal battle, however instead of looking over their shoulders at each other’s times today john Whooley was also attracting their attentions, as he was producing times to have them a little nervous. However, such is the experience and composure of Liston that he maintained a steady lead over Stevens Escort for the first couple of passes. The third run saw Stevens come back a little, 13 seconds was the difference on run 2, this 3rd run it was down to just under 4. This only motivated Liston to set his fastest time yet on the fourth run, Stevens went with him and maintained the same 4 second gap. Whooley had also set his fastest time on the fourth run, nervous times for Stevens. However as this was the elimination for the top two run off he’d done enough to put himself into the top two run off with Liston, one last go, could he get any closer than 4 seconds? A lot can happen and go pear shaped quite easily when you’re flat out and pushing to gain a few extra seconds. Just look at the class B run off. Well, Stevens knocked 5 seconds off his previous time, but Listo, the cunning buggar also knocked a couple of seconds off his previous time, producing a 5:48.69, Stevens was on 5:50.69. John Whooley held onto 3rd in class for the day, but due to Stevens not being registered he took some valuable points for 2nd place. Rob Sutherland took 3rd in class for the series in his very smart Vauxhall Chevette.
Class D, over 2 litres and still 2wd. This is a great class as the cars here are getting to the big boppers class, here today we have another very competitive class with 8 cars, and 7 of them registered to the series, the odd one out being Chris Ramsay, but as he’s normally co driving for his son Lucus, who is registered in class B, I guess we could let him off. The experience within this class is exceptional both Charlie Evans and Steve Goodare are ex Rallysprint Champions, Dave Strong needs no introduction as he’s been around since rallying was born. Chris “Rambo” Ramsay was well known for his exploits in exceptionally fast Starlets, Anthony Jones is more of the Modern era and very fast in his MK2 Escort, he is the reigning NZ open 2wd champion, he’s out today in an even faster example, that being his newly built Millington powered Escort.
It was Steve Goodare who set the pace on the opening run in his Nissan Sunny, and it was an impressive start, 10 seconds ahead of the next guy, that being Dave Strong In his Civic, followed by Charlie Evans in his RX7, Jonsey was just half a second adrift.
This being the first run its often hard to gauge exactly how you’re going, your opponents could be adopting tactical decisions, tyre budgets often come into play, learning the road and your interpretation of the pacenotes is also a major obstacle, but whatever it takes it certainly makes the competition very interesting. This class battle in particular demonstrates this. Goodare and Evans as mentioned prior are both ex champions, they know what it takes so it’s no wonder these two ended up going head to head. Goodare was again fastest on the second but Evans had closed the gap quite significantly, the third run and again it was Goodare, as was the fourth, but only just. But now were into the top two run off and one last go for Evans, and wouldn’t you know it, he stopped the clock on 05:43.70 with Goodare on 05:46.11.
Dave strong came very close with his times but today had to settle for 3rd in class, Rambo netted 4th with Jonesy 5th. A trio of BMW’s were next, Doug Adnitt, Paul Rogers and McCrae Sloper kept the flag flying for the guys over the bridge.
Whilst on the topic of the Northland based drivers it was Whangarei’s Brendon Oakden who took victory in the 4wd classic class “G”. Taking his trusty Subaru Imprezza to another class win over kevin Bennets Toyota Celica GT4. However it was Bennet who set the fastest time on the first run before Oakden hit back on the 2nd, only for Bennet to again hit back on the 3rd before Oakden took the 4th, leading us into an intriguing top two run off. This “tit for tat” battle was always pretty close but in this run off Bennett’s Celica was overheating, he did make the finish but was losing power towards the end. Taking nothing away from Oakden, it was a great result, especially when this was his first visit to this event. Richard Gore took 3rd in class in his Evo1 with Gary Agnew 4th in an Evo 2.
Now the classic 2wd guys. Down on a few numbers at this event but take nothing away from those who were present here today. It turned out to be to be Craig Tickle’s BMW 2002 V’s the Escorts of Don Needham, 2ltr MK2. Brian Best, Rover V8 MK1 Escort, and Grant Patrick in another MK1 Powered by a rather special 1700 X/F.
The opening run saw Needham with a flyer, some 14 seconds ahead of Tickle, the second run saw a massive fight back from Tickle, coming within 2 seconds of Needhams time. The third run saw Tickle take it by 30 seconds! So what happened, had Needham gone off, he certainly came past me on this run although the car was sounding a little strange.
The reason, a sticking, or should I say stuck throttle cable, and the only way the crew could get round was to use the cut-off switch as a brake…..and accelerator. Which proved for a very interesting run for co-driver Wendy, she ended up a nervous wreck at the end of the run. Don would yell out when to switch it off or on, considering how many braking points and acceleration points there are, not to mention large banks, ditches, trees and a few rather large drop offs you could imagine the language, tension and sheer frustration in the cockpit…..i’d love to see some in car footage! They managed to get through unscathed but were pretty lucky with having such a small field in the class as earlier events may well have seen them eliminated.
The pair regained their composure for the fourth run and set the fastest time again, Tickle was next which obviously put them into one last head to head in the run off. Both improved on their fourth run times but for Tickle it wasn’t enough, Don stopping the clock with a 06:00.31 and Craig 06:07.95.
Now, to the big boys class, the open 4wd. Graham Featherstone has taken two from two prior to this round, Matt Jenkins has pushed him extremely hard, Warwick Redfern has been driving tremendously but suffered somewhat due to a few organisational errors. Scott Rutherfod has been very threatening, Carl Adnitt in his RX8 4wd and Bevan Wilson in his BMW 4wd (Both Rotarys) are also more than capable of applying pressure. But, at today’s event we also had Dylan Turner turn up and register to the series in his Audi AP4. So, anyone’s game!
It was Turner who set the pace on run 1, followed by Jensen & feathers. Jensens turn on run 2 to top the table, Turner, then feathers followed. Jensen maintained his lead in the Evo9, but by now the times were all getting extremely close between these three, sadly others were not quite on the same pace, although it did not stop them trying. When standing out in the bush and watching these guys come through its quite unbelievable the pace that everyone hurtles along at, if this is clubman and grassroots motorsport then it’s in a pretty healthy state.
By the 3rd run the big three were all within a second of each other, so as we go into that all important 4th run and the final elimination who would you put your money on?
Well, Feathers has won 2 from 2 so I guess he’s the favourite, he amazingly pulled out a 4 second lead on Turner & Jensen which elevated him into the run off. But what of the two others…..would you believe it…05:32.01 to Turner and 05:32.16 to Jensen. So there we have it Feathers V’s Turner for the run off and ultimately for the overall victory.
Before we go into this run off I must go back to a point I made a few paragraphs back regarding the speed, commitment and sheer determination of some drivers to really try and give it a good go. Spare a thought for Warwick Redfern, he has not had the best season results wise, but he turned up today prepared to still give it a good go, and although off the pace of the above three he still pushed hard. He is a past triple winner of the series and knows only too well that anything can happen to anyone in front of you, and if you’re pushing doors can open for you. He was doing just that on run 4, were he had got himself into the top four elimination fight. At around the midpoint of the stage you exit the bush clad roads and venture out onto a ridge type of road, it’s only short but very fast, and as usual it has its hazards. There’s a slight crest with a rock face on the right, the rock or cliff face is so embedded that it also protrudes through the road surface and creates a nasty little bump, which at speed can catch you out (ask Clint Cunningham, as he ripped a wheel off here at the last event). Redfern was attacking and pushing pretty hard, clipping both the inside cliff face and bump in the road, it catapulted him off immediately into the paddocks via the farmers fence…..i must add that this paddock was a good few metres below the road. Immediate suspension damage made the car uncontrollable, he was very lucky not to roll, instead staying on all four wheels before coming to a stop some 30-40 metres down the paddock. Very unlucky, but very lucky to escape with no injuries and who knows, had he completed the run it could have had him in the top two, that we will never know but we do know that he was giving it a good go.
So, back to that all important top two run off. Could the new boy to the series upset the favourite at his first attempt or could Feathers hold his nerve, push hard enough and make it 3 from 3. By now both will be aware of Redferns incident and you don’t know if they think about it when approaching the spot. Anyhow, they both made it through unscathed with Feathers stopping the clock on 05:24.79 and Dylan on 05:25.74….unbelievably close yet again, what an event!
Feathers takes the overall victory for the third time in a row, Dylan takes 2nd with Matt Jensen taking 3rd.