By Ross Teesdale
The opportunity to race at high speed on 9kms of great gravel road drew entries from all over the South Island to the 2015 running of the Auchenflower Rd gravel sprint on Sunday 12th July. An oversubscribed field of 54 cars would get light over the brows and the three bridges, the top cars hitting 200km/h plus along the straights as they fought among themselves over three runs at the road. Electronics issues slowed the start of the event but helped reduce the threat of ice in the shady spots where the road winds beside a small river.
The event would see another showdown between Mike Tall in his really fast Evo4 and Matt Summerfield in the newer model Castrol Edge Impreza he is using in the NZRC this year. Others hoping to take the battle to those two included local Garry Hawkes in his Evo9, Dunedin’s Mike Turfus in an Evo8, Marlborough’s Richard Bateman in another Evo8 and many more.
In the 2WD stakes Deane Buist had his latest MK2 Escort there and Trevor Crowe had fitted a new big horsepower engine to the Justy and was hitting warp speed along the several long straights. Rob McCallum was back with his MK2 Escort which like Buist is now Duratec powered. There were 15 open class 2WD’s taking part and most of them were fast cars and drivers. The 1600 cc Class also ran hot with 14 entries.
Run one would be a gravel sweeping effort for the early runners. Tall went first and recorded 4.27 for the nine km’s. Three cars later Summerfield posted 4.20 to head run one. Running mid field Trevor Crowe blasted his way to third in run one, just 2 seconds behind Tall. Fourth was John Giltrap in his Impreza, followed by Hawkes, Turfus then Bateman. With 21 4WD’s in the field McCallum held 7th after run one, followed by Buist then Tony Gosling in the now famous Rally of Otago winning Stadium Finance MK2 BDA. Ross Teesdale rounded out the top 10 after the first run in the boosted AE86. In the 1600 class Carry Cowan was in his a class of his own in 13th overall.
Run two would provide a more consistent road for all. Tall set the course alight with 4.09 a bit over 4 seconds ahead of Summerfield’s run two effort. Hawkes moved to third ahead of David Clearwater. Buist climbed over Crowe to be fifth outright and first 2WD, but only just, Crowe was less than half a second behind in 6th outright. Crowe and Buist were already down to 4.19, five seconds faster than any 2WD times in the last 5 years, although the late Andrew Grundy had done 4.18 in his RX7 in 2009.
Despite the cold and wet underfoot conditions which made the road seem soft and the icy slipperiness by the river, the pace got even hotter in the final run three. Tall burnt up the road to win the 2015 event with a sizzling 4.04 flat – doing the maths, for a little over 9km’s that an average of near on 140km/h. Summerfield took second, 6.7 seconds behind with Hawkes third on 4:16.1 at the end of the day. Buist could not be stopped, his time of 4:16.2 secured him fourth outright and set a new 2WD benchmark. Despite missing the last run David Clearwater held fifth outright, followed by Crowe in the very fast and mean Subaru Justy turbo. Bateman took seventh, McCullum 8th and Turfus 9th. Ashburton’s David Quantock took the final spot in the top 10 in his Evo.
Buist owned the 2WD class from Crowe then McCallum. Roger Townsend took fourth in his original works spec MK2 BDA (it’s still got rear leaf springs), winning his personal battle with Tony Gosling who finished fifth in class in his Stadium Finance BDA. Derek Ayson’s Escort was also competing at the event getting a shakedown by its engine builder – Peter Kennard. It was a good day out testing the car with Kennard finishing a highly competitive 6th in class, while the car’s owner holiday’s overseas. It was only the second time in over a decade that Kennard had raced on gravel, it was an impressive effort.
Garry Cowan dominated the 1600 cc class all day in the Hills AE86 – another classy drive from Cowan. Josh Mitchell was also pushing hard in his Starlet and took second in class ahead of Nigel Tyson who did well to take third in his less well powered Corolla. David Fahey made a welcome return to the sport after rebuilding his MK1 Escort which he wrecked last season. Fahey ran as zero car as entries were oversubscribed and he was too far down the queue. The organisers could not turn him away after 12 months of work and many recent late nights to get to the event. He ran at the front and his times were good enough to have featured in the top three in class.
Recently returned competitor Chris Herdman looked to be in control of the 1300 cc Class, but was provided with an unexpected battle by 2015 rookie Chris McLean in his Corolla. Herdman has had a break rebuilding his Starlet, while Mclean has driven only two previous events and rode as navigator in his own car with Jeff Judd driving at this year’s Rally of Canterbury. The driving lesson from Judd must have paid off as McLean and Herdman would dead heat down to the 10th of a second to jointly win the 1300 cc class. Grant Goile took 3rd in his Corolla some seven seconds back.
It was a big day out at Auchenflower Rd. As is usually the case there were many battles going on throughout the field. Little mechanical niggles and small driving errors dropped some of the faster cars out of contention. Several cars had left the road but were lucky there were wide edges allowing all to escape with just a small time loss and in a couple of cases a minor dent or two. A quote from the back of a Mainfreight Truck says “The harder I work the luckier I get”. Some had needed to work hard to save things when going off, but the best teams on the day came out on top.