Blinding start gives Graves rally

Marcus van Klink slides his Mazda RX8  through the Romahapa corner during the  Catlins Coast...
Marcus van Klink slides his Mazda RX8 through the Romahapa corner during the Catlins Coast Rally on Saturday . A puncture on the last stage cost him the lead in the two-wheel-drive class, and he finished second behind Derek Ayson (Ford Escort) and 10th overall. Photo: John Cosgrove
Defending champion Andrew Graves, driving   his venerable Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 3, scored  his fourth Catlins Coast Rally victory when he won the 2018 event on Saturday.

The Gore man  and co-driver Jared Leebody built a buffer of 43 seconds over current New Zealand Rally champion Andrew Hawkeswood in the first two stages and maintained that advantage throughout the day to finish with a 53 second margin over  Hawkeswood and Jeff Cress, of Auckland, in  a Mazda 2 AP4.

Carter Strang and Stewart Robbie, of Wallacetown, in  an Evo 6 were third.

Graves rated the win as "really awesome".

"It’s really cool to win four and great to go back to back. We had our share of problems — I nearly went through a fence on the last stage and I was a bit subdued for the next 5 or 10 kilometres."

"I have a great car, team and navigator. We didn’t do anything special at the start, just kept it in the middle of the road and got a buffer.

"It’s great, as the calibre of the guys behind was so good."

Graves won four of the six stages and Hawkeswood the other two.

"I had a couple of goes at crashing," Hawkeswood said, admitting he lost time in both Stages one and four.

"It was hard without notes. This is the first rally without them since last time I was here but no excuses, Andrew (Graves) did really well. He was pretty incredible; the better man won today. I might need to become a local," he joked.

Strang finished third ahead of a trio of Cantabrians, Jeff Judd (Impreza), David Quantock (Evo 8) and Garet  Thomas (Impreza), with 2016 winner Vaughan Edie, of Invercargill, seventh in an Evo 8. John Giltrap, of Lincoln, was next, with the first of the 2-wheel-drive cars,  driven by  Derek Ayson of Gore, ninth ahead of Marcus Van Klink from Christchurch.

Victory secured Graves and Leebody the Darryl Robinson Memorial Trophy while the Kerry O’Donohue Memorial Trophy for the first South Otago crew home went to Dean McCrostie/Kim Craig, of Milton,  and the Glen Shirlaw Memorial Trophy for the first Otago Sports Car Club driver home went to Richie Chadwick.

Major casualties were Balclutha driver Barry Mills, who went off the road in SS1 in his Hillman Avenger, while fellow Balclutha driver and  three-time winner Dean Bond met a similar fate in SS3 in his Evo 6.5. Last year’s NZ Rally Championship runner-up, Matt Summerfield, of Christchurch, was fast all day in his Subaru Impreza WRX but lost a lot of time in SS2  due to engine overheating.

Aucklanders Hawkeswood-Cress, Mark Parsons-Mal Clark, of Drury,  and Andy Martin-Matt Hayward, of Tauranga, were the top three in the Southern Challenge for drivers who crossed Cook Strait  to compete.

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