Last weekend’s double helping of rally sprints for motor sports enthusiasts in the South Otago district delivered two days of action and adventure all wrapped up in variable weather conditions that tested drivers and spectators.The two rally sprints replaced the cancelled Catlins Rally traditionally run at this time.Cromwell driver Ari Pettigrew and Invercargill’s Mark McMillan came away with the trophies but all who entered the events loved the roads on offer. Pettigrew was the top seed for day one of the action, the Eastern Southland Car Club’s Rosebank Rally Sprint held near Romahapa, held in strong, blustery southerly conditions that knocked spectators about and doused the roads in heavy rain and even snow at times on Saturday afternoon.His 4WD Ford Fiesta Proto rally car had the measure of top locals Andrew Graves (Gore), driving his Mitsubishi EVO 3, and Balclutha’s Dean Bond (Mitsubishi EVO 6.5) over the 8.5km›long route that wove its way around the hills and valleys of the Puerua Church Rd, area at Waitepeka. The three top seeds swapped the lead all day on the three clockwise and three anticlockwise runs everyone had over the circuit.
Graves pulled off the fastest run of the day with 4min 19.07sec on his third run but Pettigrew was more consistent, clocking up an overall time of 8min 50.46sec to grab the silverware by 30 one hundredths of a second from Graves.
Bond was in the hunt until he stripped some teeth off his car’s fifth gear, forcing him to slow ever so slightly because the noise from the gearbox was too worrying.
“I was gutted,” Bond, who had been in the hunt all day, said. “Saturday’s roads were a great drive, lots of ups and down with a challenging mixture of fast and slow corners, some slippery, others flat›out fast. ‘‘The weather was rough, especially the wind and rain but I was gutted when the gearbox started making a big racket and I had to be more careful on my last run.”
McMillan, driving a Subaru Legacy, came home on Saturday in fifth place overall in the field of 36. His total time was just 13 seconds slower than Pettigrew’s.
The damage to Bond’s car meant he could not take the race to Graves and McMillan the following day at the South Otago Car Club’s Catlins Inn Rally Sprint held just north of Papatowai in the Catlins.
It was run over last year’s special stage one of the Catlins Rally but in the reverse direction.
The weather, although blustery, was a better friend to spectators and drivers as the sunny conditions made it a more memorable drive across the 9.9km circuit near MacLennan.
“The roads were awesome,” Clydevale’s Scott Gouman (Toyota Corolla DX) said.
With the help of friends who fixed an axle problem for him on Saturday night, Gouman had a good weekend of rally sprinting.
“I enjoyed both days. I thought I was going faster on Saturday but the times didn’t reflect that but today it’s an awesome road, especially the hill climb at the start. It was slippery at times but other than some sun strike problems we went well.”
As the Graves’ Mitsubishi powered around the Purakauiti School and Puaho Rds circuit on Sunday morning spectators were puzzled when they saw four› times Catlins Rally winner Andrew Graves waving from the passenger seat.
Sunday marked the start of the rally racing career for his son Hayden, who usually navigates for his father.
“It was my first time ever in the driver’s seat. We got faster and faster as the day wore on and it was a lot of fun and very confidence building. Ijust hope Dad was enjoying it,” he said.
The family heritage of rallying was reflected with Hayden Graves coming home in fifth place in the 21›strong field with his co›driver father sitting next to him.
South Otago Car Club president Dean McCrostie said it was an ‘‘absolutely awesome’’ event.
“The roads on both days were great and the drivers loved them.
‘‘They had two great days of motorsport. They could fix their cars on Saturday night if they needed to and then race again on Sunday.
‘‘Hopefully it would be nice to do some more combined events like this again in the future,” he said.