Following in their fathers’ tyre tracks

Otago Rally winner Jack Hawkeswood, of Whitford, and his co-driver, Jason Farmer, of Auckland,...
Otago Rally winner Jack Hawkeswood, of Whitford, and his co-driver, Jason Farmer, of Auckland, stand on the top step of the podium flanked by second place-getters co-driver Sarah Brennan, of Christchurch, and driver Robbie Stokes, of Waikuku, and third place driver Ben Hunt, of Auckland, and his co-driver, Tony Rawstorn, of Nelson. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
In a passing-of-the-baton event, two young guns have blazed to Otago Rally glory, with Jack Hawkeswood and Robbie Stokes finishing first and second respectively yesterday.

Both drivers come from rally pedigree families, as their fathers Andrew Hawkeswood and Brian Stokes are past national rally championship winners. However, Auckland’s Hawkeswood (23) was able to achieve something his dad never did in his long driving career — winning the Otago event.

"What a rally to win. It’s been awesome all weekend. I’ve really enjoyed it", an elated, champagne-soaked Hawkeswood said from the podium.

In only his third rally in the Toyota GR Yaris AP4, Hawkeswood shot out of the blocks hot and held a comprehensive lead after the first day of 19.4secs over Waikuku’s Stokes. Despite intense pressure from the North Cantabrian, Hawkeswood never relinquished his front-running position over the following day and came home 17.8secs ahead for his first national rally championship win.

Did he button off to conserve his lead?

"I was packing myself all day that I was going to balls it up. A little bit easier going but firm enough all day", Hawkeswood replied.

Finding the consistency that has eluded him in the past — he only finished outside the top three stage times twice over the 16 competitive tests —

Jack Hawkeswood powers his Toyota GR Yaris to a win in the opening Black Rock special stage, and...
Jack Hawkeswood powers his Toyota GR Yaris to a win in the opening Black Rock special stage, and eventual overall victory. PHOTO: DAVID THOMSON
Hawkeswood credited this to the influence of his new but very experienced co-driver, Jason Farmer.

"Jason and I have clicked really well and he has been a massive help all weekend", Hawkeswood said.

Stokes (28) also debuted a new co-driver in Sarah Brennan and revelled in a new-found faith in his Ford Fiesta AP4.

"We have got the car to a good reliable stage. That was what was bugging us the last four years", he said.

It enabled him to fully enjoy all the renowned stages the Otago event has to offer.

"These roads are just incredible", he said.

His proud father was interviewed at the prizegiving ceremony and admitted to a nail-biting couple of days watching his son tussle over winning stage times with Hawkeswood.

"I can start breathing again", he said, of when Stokes’ final runner-up result was achieved.

Ben Hunt, of Auckland, was seeded first but struggled to hit top pace on Saturday in his Skoda Fabia R2.

"They need to get some young kids to keep them up all night. I think it’s because I’m getting old", he joked about the two front-runners being still in their 20s.

Hunt credited Hawkeswood and Stokes on their all-out speed over the two days and despite winning three stages today and having the fastest time on Sunday, Hunt couldn’t make up the decent gap he had relinquished to them both on Saturday.

"We were trying yesterday (Saturday) and couldn’t keep up with them. We had a bit of a crack today and set a good time in the last stage but probably a little bit too late", he said.

Opotiki’s Mike Young had an impressive first showing in his Toyota Yaris AP4 to finish fourth, while Todd Bawden of Hamilton (Ford Fiesta R5) rounded out the top five.

Hometown hopes rested on Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour and new co-driver Katrina Renshaw but they were dashed early on when she hit a hole and damaged the steering badly. Limping out of the stage to the service, her team repaired the damage to her Citroen C3.

After her mishap, Gilmour dropped outside the top 30 cars, then over the course of the next 14 stages managed to charge back into sixth place by the end of the notoriously tricky final outing at Kuri Bush yesterday.

Emma Gilmour about to make a splash on stage 4 of the Otago Rally near Lawrence on Saturday....
Emma Gilmour about to make a splash on stage 4 of the Otago Rally near Lawrence on Saturday. PHOTO: DAVID THOMSON
Current American Rally Champion, Canadian Brandon Semenuk was not so lucky and clipped a bank on this last test.

"The infamous Kuri Bush got me. Not anywhere on that stage that I would expect it. Just a slow corner and I touched a bank and it kind of just grabbed the car and we had a really slow roll.

"Really a bummer way to go, out of all the crazy stages we saw but we whipped it back over and got through the stage. It was nice to get to the end here", he said, of being able to make the finish of the Otago Classic 4WD Rally.

Indian driver, Gaurav Gill, who was competing only as part of the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship in Hayden Paddon’s Hyundai i20 N Rally2 car, was not so fortunate. He started strongly on Saturday, only to retire on stage 11 yesterday, after ripping a right front wheel off in a pothole, causing unrepairable damage.

The final top 10 placings overall were each remarkable in their own way, with seventh going to WRC legend Kris Meeke in a classic Ford Escort 1800. The Irishman’s rival in that event was Christchurch’s Deane Buist and he claimed the 10th spot in the same model Ford.

Nineteen-year-old Zeal Jones, in his first event in the top class of car (Skoda Fabia) dropped from sixth to eighth due to mechanical issues.

Winning the driver of the rally award was Gore’s Andrew Graves, who scored an incredible ninth place in his 1994 Mitsubishi Evo 3, with his son Hayden calling full-pace notes for the first time.

"He did a fantastic job. Unreal. He was spot on all day", Graves said, of his son’s co-driving efforts.

The Graves’ won the Otago Classic 4WD Rally a whopping 9mins ahead of runner-up, Dunedin’s Tom Bond.

The New Zealand Rally Championship moves to South Canterbury for the second round on May 11.

 - Catherine Pattison