By Ross Teesdale
The infamous river crossing in the last stage of the 2016 Royce Watson Memorial Rally saw many cars flying high and long, to the delight of the large number of gathered spectators. Water View Cars again supported the 2016 event which celebrates our good mate Royce Watson who sadly lost his life at the event in 2013, following a high speed side impact with a tree in a MK2 Escort.
There would be three short stages run twice each and the final seventh stage was the first two stages combined, linked up by the high speed river crossing which is ever popular with spectators. Most of the top South Island drivers took part while Stewart Reid and Mike Townsend made their way from Australia to take on Hanmer Forest. Bathurst legend Greg Murphy also added to the interest with his entry in a Chevette as he gains mileage ready for his entry into the 2017 NZ Championship in a new AP4 Holden Barina. Sixty-Three teams started the event which had originally been limited to a maximum of 50. The organisers took the decision to upgrade the Motorsport NZ permit to allow the last 13 entered teams to take part.
Matt Summerfield had won the Royce Watson Memorial for the two years it had been run as such so far. 2017 would be his third win in a row in his NZRC Impreza. Summerfield was caught napping in the early running by a family battle between Father and Son Job and Dave Quantock. Dave has been away from the sport for many years while raising his family and Job started his Rally career at Royce’s event a year ago. Dave took the outright lead after winning stage two, but Summerfield would wake up and move ahead from stage three onwards. Dave won the fight with his son after a day long battle, Dave taking second outright and Job taking an impressive third one year on from his debut. It was notable that both the Quantock’s went flat out through the stage seven river crossing, with Dave taking the highest flying award overall.
The 2WD battle is always intense down south and it is interesting that 30 years into the era of 4WD cars, four of the top seven seeded drivers were using 2WD mid 1970’s Ford Escorts. Deane Buist is always the man to beat in the class and would take the win again and finish 4th outright. Buist was challenged at times by Robert McCallum who finished second 2WD and seventh outright. Derek Ayson and Regan Ross both won stages for 2WD but would lack the local knowledge of Buist and to a lesser extent McCallum. Buist has competed at Hanmer every time it has run for the last 30 years and knows the roads as well as he does his drive home from work. Ross has some Hanmer experience and took home third 2WD and 8th outright, while Ayson got home 10th outright and 4th of the 2WD runners.
17-year-old rookie Ari Pettigrew at times challenged the 2WD top 4 in his 318 BMW and was sitting 5th 2WD and 15th outright heading into the last stage. We saw Ari fly high exiting the river crossing but an encounter with a large rock further up the road would make his accelerator inoperative, costing him a good result. A bootlace used to make a hand throttle would see Ari finish the event, but well down the order.
Fifty-two of the sixty-three starters would finish the event making for plenty of action and battles throughout the field. Josh Marston in his AE111 Toyota would battle with Mike Townsend’s older AE86 Toyota all day for the 1600cc Class win. Townsend was also wanting to fend off his Father Roger who was using his MK2 BDA Escort. Marston won the 1600 class and took 14th overall in classy drive that shows he will be a force to be reckoned with when he and Murph get their AP4 Barina’s next year. Mike Townsend finished 14 seconds behind Marston for second of the 1600’s and important for him won the battle with his father. Both Mike and Roger Townsend were also among the committed high flyers at the river crossing.
An excellent drive by Blair Read saw him take home 3rd in the 1600 class in a borrowed KE70 Corolla, showing our NZRC co-ordinator is good at driving as well as organising Rallies. Steve Cattermole was photographed gritting his teeth as he flew out of the river in stage seven, his courage rewarded with 4th of the 1600’s in his ex-Royce Watson Datsun 1200 Coupe. The Coupe is still painted as Royce left it, as a tribute. Chris Herdman put in another strong drive to win the 1300 cc Class ahead of Shane Thornley, both driving Starlets.
Aussie Stewart Reid finished 20th outright in his MK2 BDA just behind Roger Townsend’s similar car, in what was a bit of a shake down for Reid as he prepares for the Silver Fern Marathon Rally later in the year. Murph also put in a good drive to take 25th, his Chevette being no match for the highly developed MK2 Escorts and 4WD’s used by most ahead of him – and many behind him. Reid and Murph also lacked the local knowledge enjoyed by many in the non-pace noted rally.
The Water View Cars Royce Watson Memorial Hanmer Rally was another success in 2016. The Autosport Club organisers went out of their way to convoy 50 car loads of spectators into the mid stage river crossing and the action was enjoyed by everyone, even if some of the drivers were a little more cautious there this year. The event offers a relaxed pace with plenty of service time and is a chance for old and new friends to enjoy a day’s Rallying and remember our late good mate Royce. Even our WRC star Hayden Paddon made the effort to come take a look while back in NZ for a few days. Don’t miss Royce’s event in 2017.