Rally Waitomo was round five of the sixround New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) and was organized by the Hamilton Car Club. It took place on October 14, with the large 81-car field utilizing roads around Piopio, two hours south of Hamilton. Many of the roads were those used back when the International Rally used to frequent our shores. The six stages were real endurance stages, having an average distance of 30km with a total of 207km of gravel.
The rally kicked off with the ceremonial opening on Friday evening at Rototuna Shopping Centre ahead of the overnight rain. However, come Saturday, the rain had gone and we were left with nearperfect conditions.
First on the road were Andrew Hawkeswood and co-driver Jeff Cress in the AP4 Mazda2. Being first on the road all day, they were the unfortunate gravel clearers, meaning they were never really able to challenge for the lead; however, they did put together wins in Special Stages (SS) 1 and 6. Meanwhile, the ever-entertaining Sloan Cox, who eventually finished second after posting best times for SS 4 and 5, was lucky to get away with a brush against an embankment of the final corner of the final stage. Eventual winner Ben Hunt and Tony Rawstorn in the Subaru WRX STI had a stellar weekend, winning two stages and having two second placings. This has now placed them nicely in reach of championship leader Andrew Hawkeswood going into the final round.
The Historic Class once again saw Tony Gosling and Blair Reid command their Escort around the twisty Waikato roads with barely any competition to be first home. Although it wasn’t plain sailing — they had a puncture on SS4 which cost the pair approximately seven minutes, then, in SS5, were forced to drive on with a steering fault. The two other cars entered in the Historic Class were the Mazda RX-3 of Paul Fraser and Chris Davidson and the Mitsubishi Lancer of Mr and Mrs Cameron. Unfortunately, the Lancer started missing on the final stage, which put an end to their race. They were one of 23 retirements.
Two of the standout cars this time round were the MR2 of Brian Terry and the TR7 of Leon Styles. The Rally Waitomo was the first rally outing for
the V8 TR7, with Leon having purchased it just seven months prior as a Targa car then promptly converting it for rally. Although it reached the end, there were some teething issues, but Leon did have fun getting sideways more often than not. Brian Terry’s MR2 has been in his hands since 2005, which is when he converted it for rallying, starting by reducing the weight down to 850kg. Between the weight reduction and the Toyota 2ZZ-GE that now powers the car, it makes a healthy 137kw at the wheels. One of the visual aspects that make it stand out is the fibreglass back end, which is completely removable, allowing for easier maintenance.
Next time out for the ladies and gentlemen of the NZRC will be the Rally of New Zealand, based in Tauranga, on November 23, with this round being the final of the championship.