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By Ross Teesdale
There can be serious ramifications for anyone who goes off the road at the 7km Ram Paddock Road Gravel Sprint which was held in North Canterbury again in late July. There are often high speeds and at times big drops, meaning coming off the road will usually have big consequences. Having 7kms to remember, someone usually does fall off. 2017 was no different.
Forty drivers turned out for the event which was also round four of Autosport Clubs five round 2017 gravel sprint series. Matt Penrose and Jeff Judd would again set the pace in their Impreza’s, along with Mike Tall in his Evo equipped 4WD Mirage. There was also extra interest created by Marcus van Klink bringing his triple rotor RX8 out to play and the entry of the Quantock’s recently purchased AP4 Skoda which would be driven both by Job and his father Dave.
The course offers high speed brows and sweeping corners for the first 2.5 kms, before heading into tighter hill country with big drops for another 2.5kms. It then opens again up in another valley for more high speed with sweeping corners and brows for the last 2kms. While the day was fine, lots of recent rain meant the road was wet to start with. It dried out in some places as the cars ran over it and the day progressed
Job Quantock led the times after the first run, helped a little by a lower running order. Matt Summerfield was close behind, Matt was also running a little down the order using the ‘driving school’ Legacy again. Others to be on the early pace included Garet Thomas in an early Evo and Dave Ollis in his bug eye Impreza. Tall, Penrose and Judd were also close to the front pace despite opening the road.
On to run two, Jeff Judd led the field with a time of 4:01.945. Penrose was 1.6 seconds behind and Summerfield continued to defy gravity in third, another half a second back. Job Quantock was learning the Skoda quickly to be next with a mid 4.06. Tall was only fifth so far with a high 4.06. Richard Baddock stuck his head up in the Impreza in run two to be sixth on a 4.08 and the only other driver sub 4:15 as yet.
Run two also saw the first car fly off the road. Sheldon Bell in his Evo3 left the road in the hill country section of the course and ended up a long way below the road. He was lucky that the car stayed on its wheels and he avoided hitting anything solid. Two 4×4 recovery vehicles were needed to pull the car a reported 30 metres back up to the road, but Bell would be back in action for run three.
In the final for the classes Marcus Van Klink was a must watch and he won the Open 2WD class unchallenged. Andrew Sim did good things as usual to take second in Open 2WD in his 2 litre Fiesta, while Graeme Coey fought off another 7 challengers to take third of the unlimited 2WD’s in his Classic EX Lancer turbo. Series class points leader Garry Hawkes had an oil cooler failure in his Mk2 BDA and was on the trailer without completing a run.
Josh and Nick Marston turned out in Nick’s AE111 Toyota to chase 1600cc Class honours. Josh would be pushed by David Birkett who returned to the sport for his first drive in 20 years and his first time in front wheel drive, in another AE111. Going into run three Birkett trailed Josh Marston by just over a second. Birkett found another 10 seconds in the last run, but Josh found more to win the class by a good margin. Nick Marston was not alone in having a few small moments learning the road but took third in class ahead of series leader Glen Daly in his Mk1 Escort.
In the 1300 cc class Peter Murch and Jonathan Taylor would fight it out for the win. Murch has been quick all year in his Twin Cam Starlet, while Taylor’s Hayabusa powered KE20 Corolla has proven strong in South Island rallies but has had a few mechanical niggles at some sprints. Murch would win the day by a good margin in the end, with Taylor clear in second.
Next up was the 1300cc battle between early 20 something friends Ryan Blacktopp in a 5 door Starlet and Jayden Tainui in his KE70 Corolla. Both rookies were driving well all day. Tainui held a lead of nearly 3 seconds going into the last run but Blacktopp would take the last podium spot by less than a second in the final, having found another 5 seconds as he further learnt the road. Tainui was left to regret not kicking his passenger out for the last run with only 1300cc to haul the extra 90kg’s.
At the front of the field, Jeff Judd was keen to show the younger blokes he still has what it takes and found another five seconds in the final run to post 3:56.973 for the 7 km’s. Judd hoped it would be enough but a resurgent Mike Tall then went quicker by 9/10ths to get one hand on the winner’s trophy. However, as he had done at the previous round at Mt Alex, Matt Penrose had burned up the road to register 3:53.086 and win the event by three seconds from Tall. It was almost an identical top 3 result to Mt Alex, and makes Penrose the clear favourite to win the 2017 Autosport Club Gravel Sprint Series along with the 2017 NZ Hillclimb Championship Penrose already holds.
Behind the top three, Job Quantock was the best of the rest in the AP4 Skoda. It is fair to say the AP4 car does not have the unrestricted power of the cars of Penrose, Tall and Judd. It was also a day to try out the new toy and not push your luck. Job and Dave can both be fairly pleased with their day out, although a misfire in the last run did not help Job’s cause.
Summerfield defied low tech to take fifth in his Legacy, his driving had been very precise and about as fast as anyone could make that Legacy go. Next was Baddock followed by Ari Pettigrew who had made a slow start in Bruce Asher’s Impreza. Mitch James put up an aggressive but tidy drive to take eighth in his Evo, ahead of Garet Thomas and Dave Quantock.
After a recent Rally in the car, Bruce Asher was setting a good pace in the Impreza he allows Ari Pettigrew to share. Asher was swapping times with young Ari for the first two runs. But “Pine Tree Corner” would claim Asher in the last run. Someone goes in there every year with the tight corner unsighted until it’s too late to brake after a fast section. Someone must have gone in there when the trees were little, as a clear path opens as you fly over the bank. Lots of pine needles await to act as a sand trap when you land. There are trees all around so there is a certain line needed to save your bacon, which Asher did manage to navigate.
While Bruce Asher had found one of the few places you can go off at Ram Paddock Road without needing to buy a new car, the need to be towed back up to the road took away any result.
Others to catch extra attention on the day included James Palmer who was also driving Summerfield’s Legacy and did a really strong job. Sean Haggerty, who shares his Impreza with Baddock, was well inside the top 10 going into the third run. But he blew that last run, knocking a tyre off a rim and posting a 14 minute time. It had been a good drive until then.
Sheldon Bell always looked to be trying hard and recovered well after his early crash, while Jason McConnell was keeping a good line in his latest Impreza. Another who looked to be driving as hard as he could go was Jeremy Beaton in his WRX. It does not show in the times which means he must have had a few moments along the way, but top points to Jeremy for keeping his foot in it.
With 7 km’s, numerous high speed brows and plenty of tricks up its sleeve, Ram Paddock Road favours those who have competed there before and those who are quick learners. It is a great bit of North Canterbury public road. For the final sprint series round the Autosport Club plan to take us into the Forest on 1st October, a week before Bathurst.