TOP seed Andrew Graves won his third Catlins Coast Rally with a commanding drive in his Mitsubishi EVO 3 on Saturday.
Graves, with co-driver Jared Leebody, of Gore, forged into the lead from the start, opening a good margin over second seed Jeff Judd, of Christchurch, in a Subaru Impreza WRX. He continued to build on his lead, winning five special stages, before Judd took the sixth and final stage.
Graves secured the Darryl Robinson Memorial Trophy for the third time with a 1 minute 02.9 second margin over Judd and Grant Marra, who finished second.
Michael Tall and Matt Richards, of Christchurch, in a four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Mirage, took out third place.
“We had no problems,” said Graves as he savoured his third win after also winning the event in 2010 and 2013.
“The car was fine, the weather was fine. I kept my nose clean all day. I was trying reasonably hard until we got a good buffer. I backed off a little, but the pace was still pretty hot later in the day. I was trying not to make mistakes. There was heavy gravel near the end on Hunt Rd and it would have been easy to throw it away.
“I’m absolutely stoked for my service crew and sponsors. It is as much a reward for them as it is for me.”
Deane Buist and Karl Celeste, of Christchurch, were fourth overall and their Ford Escort was the first two-wheel-drive, while Carter Strang and Stewart Robbie, of Wallacetown, were fifth in their EVO 6.
The current leader of the New Zealand Rally Championship, Matt Summerfield, of Christchurch, was sixth with co-driver James Palmer in a Subaru Legacy, while David Clearwater and Tina Nichols, of Christchurch, were seventh in an EVO 4 ahead of David and Emma Quantock, of Christchurch (EVO 8). Derek Ayson and Gav McDermott, of Gore,
were ninth in their Ford Escort FJ Mk2.
Last year’s winners, Vaughan Edie and Tony Johnston, of Invercargill, rounded out the top 10 in an EVO 8.
Richie and Rachel Chadwick, of Dunedin, were the first Otago Sports Car Club members home in their Toyota Corolla GT, winning the Glen Shirlaw Memorial Trophy for the second year running while also taking the Alexandra Auto Electrical Class B for two-wheel drive cars from 1301-1600cc in 13th place. Steve and Ian Morris in an EVO 5 won the Kerry O’Donohue Memorial Trophy for the first South Otago crew home in 19th place.
With the top three finishers ineligible for class honours, Deane Buist won the Window Tint South Class C (two-wheel-drive cars of 1601cc and over), with Carter Strang taking the Valley Coachlines Class D for four-wheel-drives.
Derek Ayson won the class he sponsored, the Derek Ayson Farmlands Real Estate Class G (1701cc and over classics), while Garet Thomas, of Darfield, in an EVO 2, won the Ritchies
Class E for Pre-96 four-wheel-drive cars with an 11th place finish.
Nigel Marshall, of Wyndham, took the Flashclad Class F for 0-1700cc Classics honours in 15th and Rhys Turner took the Balclutha Auto Electrics Class A for two-wheel-drive cars of
0-1300cc when he came home in 39th.
Father-and-daughter David and Emma Quantock won the inaugural Stadium Finance Generation Trophy, while Andy Vause, of Wanaka, and James Palmer won the Monit Rally Computers driver and co-driver awards, respectively.
As always, there were several hard-luck stories. Barry Mills, of Balclutha, who had finished every Catlins Rally since the first in 1999 in his Hillman Avenger, retired early with mechanical troubles, while other top runners, Jason Keach, of Mosgiel, and Bert Murray, of Waimate, also retired with mechanical troubles.
Two of the four North Islanders in the field were forced to retire; David Wright, of Te Aroha, after a fire in his Ford Escort BDA in Stage 1, and Neil Dodds, of Gisborne, with overheating late in the day.
Sixty-seven entries started the day with 53 making it to the end.
The 2017 Catlins Coast Rally was Round 5 of the Stadium Finance Mainland Rally Championship and also a points round for the ESCC Rally Championship Trophy, while major support for the event came from Rosebank Lodge Balclutha, Fulton Hogan, Owaka Motors,
Yuasa Batteries and Stadium Finance.