Catlins Coast Rally a favourite for defending champion

Andrew Graves and Jared Leebody, of Gore, on their way to win number three at the Catlins Coast Rally last year on a day when they won five of the six special stages in their Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 3. Photo: Euan Cameron Photography 

DEFENDING Catlins Coast Rally champion Andrew Graves, of Gore, rates the rally as one of his favourites – and when you look at his record in the event it is little wonder.

Last year’s victory was his third, following wins in 2010 and 2013. He has also been runner-up twice, in 2012 and 2016 – when he fell as low as 35th place early on after copping the worst of the snow and ice – and he was third in 2011.

It’s a phenomenal record, particularly when you take into consideration that his Mitsubishi EVO 3 is the oldest car at the pointy end of the field and that Graves is not a regular behind the wheel because he spends much of the year co-driving for others.

It was as a co-driver when he scored his “other” victory in the Catlins Coast Rally with 2005 victor Derek Ayson, while in 2014 and 2015 he again competed as a co-driver in the event alongside Tony Quinn.

For the past two years he has returned to his co-driving roots in a big way, sitting alongside Christchurch driver Josh Marston in the Holden Rally Team as they campaigned in the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship, as well as some rounds of the MRF Tyres Mainland Rally Series.

Graves leads the co-driver points in both championships.

It’s a busy schedule and Graves freely admits he could not do it without “the love and support of family”.

Asked about his success – he has also won both the Rankleburn Rally and the Lawrence Rally twice each – he said: “I don’t have a secret, I just make sure my gear and my health is right, plus you need a bit of luck”.

Looking ahead to this year’s rally, he said: “I would like to give it another nudge, although the car is a year older and so am I.

“I want to go out and give a good performance and do the best we can. I’ll be there with bells on.”

Catlins and the Lawrence Rally were his two favourite events and he looked forward to Catlins every year, he said.

Jared Leebody has been Graves’ co-driver for each of his Catlins wins and will be alongside in the co-driver seat again this year, while Graves’ son Hayden has sat beside his father and shared victories with him at both Dusky Forest and Lawrence.

In his limited outings recently, Graves has won the Eastern Southland Car Club Rallysprint at Popotunoa, Otago, and the recent Otago Sports Car Club Whare Flat Rallysprint, finishing ahead of Emma Gilmour, with Hayden alongside again.

Graves got the motorsport bug when first co-driving for Ayson and started driving in 1998 with a Mazda RX3, which he described as “not the fastest car”.

He competed in his first rally, the Mount Linton Rally, in the car, plus club events, followed by a MKII 1600cc four-door Ford Escort, which he said he thrashed before upgrading and beginning his successful career in the EVO 3.

The Catlins Coast Rally will begin adjacent to Owaka Motors in Campbell St, Owaka, at 10am on Saturday, August 11, with competitors facing six high-speed special stages over a total of 150km before the event concludes in Owaka at 3.44pm.

The rally is round six of the MRF Tyres Mainland Rally Championship and part of the Eastern Southland Car Club Rally Championship.

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