Thursday, 15 November 2018

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Old and new at Gold Rush Rally of Coromandel

By Jack Biddle

In what was considered a world first, a total of ten different manufacturers were seeded in the top 10 at last Saturday’s Hyundai New Zealand Goldrush Rally of Coromandel.

The one-day event, which tackled 113 kilometres over eight gravel stages around Mercury Bay and the northern Coromandel, was the fifth and penultimate round of the 2018 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) and was run out of the Mercury Bay Multisport Park in Whitianga. 

The man to beat in the 57-strong field was Kiwi World Rally Champion star, Hayden Paddon, who was out to cement his fourth NZRC title in the elite NZ1 class with one round still remaining. Despite having ongoing mechanical issues throughout the day in his Hyundai i20 AP4+, he didn’t disappoint and came away with a narrow 18.7 second win over Subaru brand ambassador Bent Hunt from Auckland driving a Subaru WRX STi.

To showcase the diversity and competitiveness of the different manufacturers competing for a podium place, it was the Audi of Dylan Turner (Pukekohe) who managed a well-earned third, while the brother and sister team of Matt and Nicole Summerfield (Rangiora) piloting their Mitsubishi Mirage, pushed two-time defending Gold Rush Rally champion, Australian Brendan Reeves (Mazda 2 AP4,) down to fifth place.

As with any major rally event, there were a few the hard luck stories too. Multiple former Bathurst champion and current motorsport media personality, Greg Murphy, driving a Holden Barina AP4+, had a day to forget with a retirement after stage 1, while long-time women campaigner and ninth seed, Emma Gilmour, was left wondering what could have been if brake issues had not hampered the performance of her Suzuki Swift AP4.

As in the past, the final stage of the Gold Rush Rally was the traditional short and entertaining sprint up and down Joan Gaskell Drive in Whitianga which drew a healthy and appreciative crowd.

For those who walked around the service area at the Mercury Bay Multisport Park, they could not help but be impressed with the individual setups the elite teams bring to these events. They want for little when it comes to providing spare parts, equipment and manpower to help keep their respective cars and drivers in contention. It certainly appears to be a big budget business for those competing at the sharp end of rallying.

At the other end of the scale there were the low budget teams on display also. They operate with older vehicles, a lot less manpower and even smaller monetary budgets. They are no less committed to their sport, however, and, in fact, made up the majority of the field last Saturday.

Whitianga-based competitor Mike Vincent is a good example. His tight budget doesn’t allow him the luxury of travelling the country competing in every round of the NZRC. His race wheels are a 1975 Hillman Avenger which he has owned and rallied for around 25 years. “We mainly do selective club events around the country where entry fees for a start are far more affordable,” says Mike. “Rally New Zealand does, however, provide an opportunity for teams like ours to take part in major national events, so when they are held in your own backyard, it’s a no brainer to take the opportunity to be part of such a high profile event.”

Before heading out for the last special gravel stage on Saturday, Mike was all smiles and a bundle of enthusiasm, despite crashing badly and doing extensive damage to his car on the 309 Road during Stage 1. He and co-driver Geoff Burrows from Hamilton managed to limp back to the service area where their crew set about repairing the damage. The car required a large amount of structural and suspension work, but with a small but enthusiast crew who worked tirelessly, they managed to finally get it back on the road. Despite missing a couple of special stages and the car looking a little worse for wear, they were allowed to start at the rear of the field and finish the rally.

“For us it’s never about winning, we know that before the car even gets loaded onto the trailer, it’s all about participation and competing in a sport we enjoy,” says Mike. “Plus being on a limited budget and running an old car means the crew pull out all the stops to try and keep us mobile.  Where the elite crews simply replace damaged components for a quick turnaround in the service area, we often have to find ways to repair any damage while keeping the car safe for those high speed stages. It’s stressful in a fun sort of way. But even at our level we are extremely grateful to our local sponsors such as Coastal Refrigeration and Ace Panel & Paint. Without their support it would be much harder.”

The 2018 NZRC concludes in October with the Hyundai New Zealand Raglan Rally of the Coast.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.