GARET and Gemma Thomas, of Darfield, won the Catlins Coast Rally in dramatic finish on Saturday.
The husband and wife team took the lead only on the final stage in a Subaru WRX Sti.
Their victory also gave them the Mainland Rally Series driver and co-driver titles.
Defending champion and four-time winner Andrew Graves, of Gore, had won the opening four special stages and held a comfortable lead of more than 3 mins when he lost a wheel and went off the road on the penultimate stage handing the lead to Deane Buist, of Christchurch, in his Volkswagen Golf GTi MK2.
Buist headed to the final stage 25 secs ahead of Carter Strang, of Wallacetown, in his EVO 6 with Thomas third, 33 secs off the lead.
Both Buist and Strang suffered problems in the final stage leaving Thomas to come home to take an unexpected win and secure the Darryl Robinson Memorial Trophy.
“Real happy,” was how Thomas described the result.
“We couldn’t ask for better. We came down primarily to try and win the Mainland Series and I was driving my father-in-law Dave Ollis’ car.
“We were roughly there all day but I never thought we would beat the locals. We had no problems, we just put in fuel and cleaned the windows, which was good as we were short on crew.”
Job Quantock, of Kaiapoi, was second with Malcolm Read in their Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 8 17 secs behind.
Quantock said it had been “a pretty interesting day. At times there was heaps of grip at others absolutely none. It caught a lot out.”
Third was three-time winner Dean Bond, of Balclutha, in his EVO 6.5 despite several problems throughout the day.
“I knew this rally often has a sting in the tail so I kept chipping away.”
Sean Haggerty, of Ohoka, finished fourth ahead of Matt Wright, Regan Ross, and Jeff Judd.
Mark McMillan, of Invercargill, drove impressively in his Subaru Legacy RS from 39 to finish eighth with the top 10 rounded out by Marcus Van Klink and Barry Mills, of Balclutha, in his Hillman Avenger.
The Kerry O’Donohue Memorial Trophy for the first South Otago crew home went to Dean Bond and his co-driver Scott Milne, while the Glen Shirlaw Memorial Trophy for the first Otago Sports Car Club driver home went to Nigel Lawson, of Mosgiel.
Graves, co-driving with son Hayden, and looking for his fifth win in the event grabbed the lead early in his EVO 3 and was cruising with a comfortable lead only to slide off the road in Stage 5 after a wheel parted company with the car.
“It was really slippery. We blew a strainer out of the ground and did a bit of damage to the car including blowing an oil cooler to bits so we couldn’t continue. I am more gutted for my sponsors, my team and my son.”
– Lindsay Beer is the Catlins Coast Rally publicity officer
Images from the Catlins Rally. Photos: Dave Loudon Photography