I had been pretty crook leading up to the rally, and by Wednesday was ready to call it a day and not go. Luckily the doctor came to the rescue with some “controlled” drugs, which didn’t get rid of my lurgy, but made me not care I had it!
We arrived into the area around mid morning on Friday. I wanted to go and have a look at SS1 -Coonoor Road, as having learnt my lessons at previous rallies, I need to shoot in the first stage. After driving up the road, there were lots of good places to shoot from, but not many to get the car off the road and out the way.
About halfway through the stage we came across the Lime Quarry. The road turns around a right hand bend and kind of disappears. It looks like the road has ended and you’re in the yard of the Quarry. There was a Ute just about to leave the yard, so we pulled up and spoke to them. It turned out this was the Quarry’s owner, and he assured us this was the road. He kindly agreed to allow us to park in his yard the following day for the rally, as this is what he had planned to do.
Feeling good that we had location one sorted, we drove back to Masterton some hour and half away with traffic. We quickly did the maths and realised we were going to be on the road by 04:15 the next day to get into the stage before the road closed. Dee was not impressed! At least the forecast was for a good day.
So the forecast was wrong. We left the motel at 04:15 as planned, only to be met with some light showers. By the time we reached the Quarry, the wind was pretty strong (and cold), and the rain had turned quite heavy. Not what we wanted. As the zero cars came through the stage, we watched what lines they took around the corner leading into the Quarry. There was a large lump of rock in the road which I was keen to see if the cars would cut across or not. None of the zero cars cut it, so I moved to shoot from another angle.
I could barely hear the first car coming onto the stage, but as Richard Mason flew into sight, he did cut right across the rock, and I swear his whole car was airborne briefly. It was taken with the total commitment that we’ve come to expect from Richard.
The light levels were really low due to the lack of any decent sunrise, so it was pretty testing on the limits of the camera equipment. My fingers were being tested to the limit too. Being wet and freezing cold, they were struggling to operate!
As the field made their way through, the majority decided to cut the corner and go over the rock, some leaping upwards in the process. One notable car missing was the MC2 of Alex Kelsey. He had started the stage but didn’t make it to us. I don’t know any more than what was listed on Chrissport, which was permanent retirement due to suspension. I really feel for Alex after the incredible effort and dedication he’s put into the car, to not be able to show what it can really do. He’s certainly shown us its potential, so look out once the inevitable teething issues are sorted.
Alex was not the only driver I felt for, as the attrition rate was incredibly high for this rally. Some 28 cars out of 69 failed to finish. That’s 40% of the starters!
Once SS1 was open to the public, we decided to drive the rest of the stage and head for service at Pongoroa. About a kilometre or so past where we had been shooting, the road starts to drop down a very large hill. It was unbelievably slippery, tight and twisty with huge drop offs on the driver’s side. Scary stuff!
Toward the end of the stage, we came across a spectator car which had hit the bank and got stuck in a ditch. Plenty of people were trying to help get him out. Once he was free, we could also see Roger Goss had been stuck here, and was towed out. We carried on out of the stage as everyone was okay and being helped.
Right near the end of the stage there was a tight left hand bend. We could see some tracks leaving the road here. Wayne Pittams and Lance Williams both went off the road and dropped down a long way. I hear (unconfirmed) that Wayne’s car left the road and fell 60+m down a very steep bank landing on its roof. Lance also went off nearby and dropped approximately 30m to a sudden stop. Thankfully all crews are okay, but not sure about their cars. Gutted for you guys!
Due to the delay in getting out of SS1 we missed half of the service, so we decided to skip it and try for the end of SS3 instead. Heading along the highway, we came across a road accident and we were waved down. Luckily everyone was again okay, but there was a car stuck good and proper in the ditch facing the wrong way. We pulled over to help tow them out. Thankfully Matt Summerfield’s service crew had stopped and helped too, so it didn’t take us too long to get going again.
By the time we reached the end of SS3 there was nowhere left to park, so we changed plans again and decided to head for the end of SS5. We thought we had enough time to make it. We managed to get delayed a third time, this time by a farmer herding his sheep up the road. Luckily we arrived in time and walked in. We only just got into the stage by 30 or 40m before the first of the zero cars arrived. Unfortunately it wasn’t the best of spots, but that couldn’t be helped.
While the cars visited the service at Solway Park, we decided to cut across country and go to the end of SS9, giving us plenty of time, even if there were further delays. Having shot this stage last year, I know it’s a great spot to go.
Unfortunately given the time of year, the sun was dropping quickly and light levels were going to be an issue again. It was again going to test the camera equipment. The cars always look great through here. It’s uphill with several tight corners where the cars get thrown from side to side. Perfect for watching. Lots of people turned up to spectate here too, which was great to see.
Congratulations to Richard and Sara Mason for winning the rally, and a 5th NZRC title. You really need to spend time out in the stages to see and appreciate just how committed this team is when on a charge. Quite spectacular. Full results for the Rally can be found here.
There is also a LOT of talent further down the field at all levels which has to be a good thing for the sport. Youngsters like Max Bayley and Tyson Jemmett are good examples of the talent coming through.
The emergence of more of these new style cars is also exciting. I see Alex Kelsey’s car has people driving for hours just to come and see / hear it go. That’s great to be getting spectators back out in the stages. Great for the drivers to have an audience and great for the sponsors, who without, this sport would really struggle. If you haven’t made the effort to come and spectate yet, you really should. You won’t be disappointed! If you’re not sure how, or when and where, drop me a line and I’ll do my best to help you out.
As for my Driver of the Day, I think this time it goes to Brent Taylor. I’ve watched him several times in the FT86 now, and this rally he really started to look more comfortable in it, getting it very sideways going full noise when he came past us. It was great to see!
After a very early start, and a long day with lots of kilometres covered, there was only one thing left to do – Party! It was a great night, spent with awesome company and the odd beverage. I apologise in advance to everyone, as Dee was getting rather snap happy with her camera, and was taking no prisoners! I warn you now!
See you in the ‘Naki in two weeks’ time!