So let’s start at the beginning, 2014. New car, a plan for the year, and ambitions of a busy rally season.
Preparation went well, test day at Tect Park, cut short by a fuel pump issue late in the day. However, after a day in the car, I felt good about my new purchase. Time to get the entry in for Whangarei.
Now some of you may have read the blog by Chris at C.Rally, and for those of you that haven’t, Whangarei did not go to plan. Terminal turbo failure at the refuel following stage 2 meant that our first rally of the year did not have the desired outcome. Back to the drawing board, and a plan of attack developed while having a beer or two on the Sunday of the rally before flying home in preparation for another month at work.
During that month, rather than have to rush about trying to organize a fix from offshore Indonesia, the decision was made to not compete at Hawkes Bay as originally planned, but to ensure the rebuild went to plan with a view to getting back onto the stages for my home rally, Taranaki, in July.
And this is where my day begins. Chatting with Jason about our plans for the remainder of the year, he and Dee invited Michal (chief rally accountant and my wife) and I to Hawkes Bay. Good opportunity for a catch up, as you do from time to time. Was also a good opportunity for me to get out into the stages I rarely have time to see, and get an idea of life behind the lens. The added bonus to this trip was as well as all our fellow competitors, there were two new beasts making their competitive debut, and we’d be out to see them.
Saturday afternoon before the rally, we planned to be at doco in Hastings by mid afternoon. At 2pm we still had the grandkids visiting, so prying Michal away from Taranaki was not happening. But by 2.30 we were on the road.
Arriving at Hastings a little after dark, it was time to catch up with Jase and Dee, and have dinner and a few drinks before heading out in the morning.
Stage 1 Cricklewood. What time was that Jason?? Just about spat my beer out as I realised I had to be up and on the road at 5am. Not only that, but I had to ask Michal to be up at the same time!!
Anyway off we go 5.20. We meet Scott Johnson at the designated BP, which fortunately had coffee to go, and we were off. Not a bad drive heading north towards Gisborne. It was dark and raining so much that I missed the coast completely. But by approximately 6.30ish we arrived into the stage. The idea being (scoped out a day prior) that we would be approximately 800m into stage 1 with a great view from the start line on a sweeping right hander.
Ok, so it’s now 6.45. We’ve got an hour or so to wait. Vehicles backed into what must have been the biggest quagmire of shit within 2 km. Anyway, time to crack open the BBQ. Bacon sandwiches anyone? Well, I had to laugh, as everyone that didn’t hold onto the back of my ute while coming to visit me at the BBQ slipped in the mud. A couple on their backsides. But the banter and laughing continued while Jase and Scott made the recce of the best spot for each of them to take their photos.
While all this is going on, the cars start to appear at the start line. Not 100% visible through the low cloud, but you could certainly pick some. The MC2 was a dead giveaway as it made its way to the pre start area. That car sounds amazing.
The course opening cars headed off into the stage. Only a few minutes to wait now until some action. It really has been a long time since I’ve been at an event specifically to watch. As a driver, the flow of adrenaline as the stage starts is always there, especially wishing you were competing as intended.
The top guys make it all look so easy. One after another they chucked gravel at us while Jase and Scott took their photos, Dee was videoing for the website, and Michal seemed to be enjoying the spectacle. I will admit that she did say I could have a car similar to Alex’s MC2 , and then posted the evidence on Facebook.
It was great to see the two new cars for this year in action. The thing I love about this sport is the diverse selection of people associated, and the many varieties of cars competing.
Stage 1 was over before we knew it, and the sweeper made their way into the stage. So, time to move again, heading further into the stage for the second pass.
Jase had picked a spot about 8km in. However, due to the low cloud and persistent rain we kept driving, looking for an alternate that would provide some shelter, allow the photographers a great shot, and continue the spectacle. So eventually, approximately 10km into the stage, we found what everyone thought was a great spot.
Another wait, and time to crack the BBQ for the second time. Sausage sandwiches all round? Best idea I’ve had for a long time, taking the portable BBQ. Scoping out photo spots again, some more banter, laughing, and joking while we waited.
Spots picked and the course openers in the stage again, we all took our positions. I’d been tasked with some video for Scott using old reliable digital camera. Even I couldn’t get this wrong!!
Positioned over the fence on a long sweeping right hander I had a great view of each car, fully committed sideways prior to hitting the gas and heading down the hill, through the puddle that Jase was interested in before heading over the crest and off up the hill.
Confidence throughout the crews had obviously increased since the first run through, and there were some committed teams out there. Once again the urge to be competing was hard to shift, but I was enjoying myself. No close calls by anyone, no half spins, some cars catching others, but the stage passed without incident. Once again the sweeper headed through the stage and we were heading back to the car clubrooms for stage 8 – the short blat around the track.
It was a great spectacle for all the people watching. And it appeared to be a good crowd. A number of cars not completing the day, and some rejoining after earlier issues.
Following stage 8 we caught up with Chris Gracie, who had co-driven for me for 3 stages at Whangarei, and congratulated him and Ric Chalmers on their class win. It’s great to see that partnership working out. It was also a good opportunity to catch up with others whom we only see on rally weekends.
Showered and changed, prize giving attended, and I had the opportunity to catch up with the remainder of the people I hadn’t had a chance to catch up with before what can only be described as a welcome sleep.
This spectating lark is harder work than driving. Spending the day with “alittlebitsideways.co.nz” Jase and Dee, certainly makes you appreciate the effort that goes into what they do. The same can be said for the volunteers who run these events and make themselves available from early early, so we get to go for skids on some awesome roads.
Great event Hawkes Bay Car Club. Thanks to all those that made the weekend possible, and thanks for the hospitality Jase and Dee. Lastly, thanks to my wife Michal for coming with me. It is easy to be passionate about the sport when you’re being supported 100%.
So now the focus is Taranaki. The scope of work on the Evo has grown, but I have a great team of guys working to get us back on the stages. Entry is in, and all things going to plan, I’ll have the car on the dyno late in the week prior to the rally. Look forward to catching up in the ”naki”.
By Ben Brown