Graves keeps Catlins crown

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Defending champion Andrew Graves, of Gore, has made it two in a row, comfortably defending his title as king of the Catlins Coast Rally at the weekend.

It was Graves’ fourth time on the top step of the podium in the six-stage, day-long event held in the hills between Balclutha and Owaka.

By the end of the second stage at Tawanui it was evident that Graves and co-driver Jared Leebody were the ones to beat as they had quickly built up a buffer of 43 seconds over current New Zealand rally champion Andrew Hawkeswood and the rest of the 63-car field.

Carter Strang and Stewart Robbie, of Wallacetown, were less than a minute behind, comfortably slotting their Mitsubishi Evo 6 into third spot overall by the end of the day.

Graves, who pushed his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 3 rally car to the limit, said there were a couple of occasions when they almost cooked it on the slippery gravel roads.

“We had our share of problems and I nearly went through a fence on the last stage, so I was a bit subdued for the next five or 10 kilometres,” he said.

Graves praised his team for their ability to keep the nearly 20-year-old car in good order.

“I have a great car, team and navigator. We didn’t do anything special at the start, just kept driving down the middle of the road and got a buffer. It’s great as the calibre of the guys behind was so good,” Graves added.

Inside knowledge of the tricky road conditions proved key for local contenders.

Derek Ayson and Gavin McDermott, of Gore (Ford Escort Mark 2), inherited ninth overall and the class G trophy for 1700cc and over classics after the car of Marcus Van Klink (Mazda RX8), of Christchurch, sustained a puncture 6km from the end of the final stage and he rode his car out on the rim to finish. Van Klink still won the class C 1601cc and over category.

Surprisingly, there were only six withdrawals among the 63 entrants, a large field.

Major casualties were Balclutha driver Barry Mills, who went off the road in special stage 1 in his Hillman Avenger, causing extensive damage to the body work, while fellow Balclutha driver, three-time winner Dean Bond, met a similar fate in special stage 3 in his Evo 6.5, finishing up in a roadside ditch.

A special award was made to Brayden King and Jordyn Whyte, of Invercargill (Toyota Starlet), who finished 56th, completing the event 20 years after their fathers competed in the Catlins Coast Rally in the late 1990s.