Sara and Dave in team gearAfter months, days and many hours spent leading up to this huge rally I was counting down the seconds till I could just get on the roads – face to face with the Otago Rally for the first time. With new co-driver, David Calder of Dunedin on board we were very enthusiastic about our first rally together. David took on the majority of the organising and left me to concentrate on making sure the car was prepared and finished. We decided it was time to run on notes, not only because we’re doing the New Zealand Rally Championship but also because we felt we were ready for the challenge. So all in all – new car, new co-driver, notes for the first time, biggest rally I’ve ever done (2 days) and my first rally being a New Zealand Rally Championship competitor – boy was this going to be fun!

We arrived in Dunedin on Thursday, meeting David at Shakedown – he brought the car with him as it had been in Dunedin receiving a nice new sticker job (thanks to Andre’ at Car.co.nz!) After a long delay we finally got going, after the first run I knew I was going to LOVE these roads! Met some very friendly Australians and had the TV 3 crew interviewing me, so there were many new experiences!

David took the car back to his place – where he had a large Armourall box filled of cleaning products awaiting him. We knew Friday would be quite a mission – as it was Recce day and the first recce both of us had done. Luckily we had the use of a car donated by Roger Laird of Laird Motorsport (as we were both too young to get a rental car!). But Friday was great; we covered a fair few km's, noted a fair few dodgy corners and was able to get a good look at roads. Documentation at night – met Hannu Mikkola and Tony Mason. They’re awesome guys and very supportive. Beat Richard Mason to auditing – where we had to spend 2-3 hours waiting (in the cold!), even though it took 5min to get car checked as they didn’t need to audit it. Good old David and Josh got some Burger King for dinner, which I had to fight the hungry Richard for.Bert next to Hannu Mikkola's car - first & second?

Friday night arrived. I was very tired, not just from recce but the many sleepless nights working up to the event – finishing off school work, the car, organising people etc. We were asked to display our car (Bert) and ‘ourselves’ at the motor show and Dad had parked him up in there while we were at recce. When I walked in the door I walked straight past Bert as he looked so good I didn’t think he was mine! Think he got a bit scared however – as on one side was all the NZRC 4WD’s, in front were the Bruce Herbert, Westy and Mark Tapper cars and right next to him was the Gilmore Porshe 911 and the rest of the classic cars. The Jellybeans and pebbles went down a treat on the bonnet (yes Rodney, Chris and Garry the jellybeans ?). Unfortunately I retired for bed early; as I could hardly keep my eyes open and tomorrow was to be a rather huge day.

Bert in the motor showManaged to get to sleep around 8pm, woke up at around 5am! Went down to the breakfast lounge to find the legendary Hannu Mikkola having breakfast with Tony Mason – I was careful to watch what Hannu was eating and tried to eat the same – unfortunately I can’t quite fit that much in! Watched the classics off - great to see so many Nelson teams here – Chris and Rodney, Ashton and Ross, Garry and Mark.

Because we are running NZ Rally Championship, we were seeded number 27th out of 48 cars in the main rally,. I’ll never forget having Evan O’Leary and Dermot Martin right up my exhaust! Poor Bert was a little worried. Arrived at the first stage, was as nervous as I’ve been in a while but ready to give it a go. Had an incredibly slow time on the first stage but wasn’t too concerned. Saturday ran fine, not too much rain and it was awesome to pull up at service to have the Owen Brothers Rallying service crew, mum, dad and Caity all ready to go go go as soon as we got in. Most professional service crew, the TV was even following them. Another bonus was to have our car waterblasted after every service to keep him lighter and looking smart. But at this stage – surrounded by the NZ Rally Championship guys and their HUGE trucks, miles of tyres and spare parts – mum and dad were realizing, like me, that the Explorer is a little small as a service vehicle!

There was a 30km odd stage on Saturday, was interested to see how we’d go here because the new car meant I had to work a lot harder on the stages and was worried I wouldn’t be fit enough. Got to the end and for the first time ever there was sweat running down my face. Which although it sounds yuck, I was happy with!Sara at the start line

Saturday finished and everyone was very happy with how we’d gone. The car was straight and I was ready to run a marathon – which ended up being held day two! Cars went into Parc Ferme. Bert was warm that night, being parked between Kayne Barrie’s (#26) and Dermot Martin’s car (#29).

After looking at our times on Saturday, I wasn’t a happy chappie. I hadn’t bothered looking at our times all day and I was rather gutted to see how we’d ended up. But tomorrow would be another day and I was very fired up to try and get back some of the time we’d lost on Saturday – I knew we could do it as we have a great car and determination isn’t lacking from any crew member. ‘Once you’ve gone so far that you can’t take one more step, then you’ve just gone half the distance that you’re capable of’ and I realised that because I could still run a marathon, there was plenty left. I was very happy with David’s performance on Saturday, he kept me under control and our notes were close to perfect, though we did learn we’d have to take more care on recce.

Bert at shakedownGood Morning Sunday! Felt like it was not only a new day, but also a new rally. Drove to the first stage and waited in the car to psyche myself up, while Dermot helped me remember the stage. We were off and I was LOVING this stage, had a lot of everything but the bottom line was a nice hard base which had hardly cut up – which was good as we had to repeat this stage later on. Stage two was quite similar but was very slushy and muddy near the end, which is the stuff, I need to improve my times on. Must say though, was gutted to see Chris and Rodney parked up a tree – these boys deserve credit at running so high up in their first rally! Stage 3 – what a HUGE stage – 40km odd long. Was looking forward to this, though it was very long, if we concentrated hard I was hoping to gain some time back on Saturday. We were on fire this stage – didn’t realise it was going so well until I got praise at the end from David! Managed to get a HUGE dent in the floor behind David’s seat which he got a sore back from, also a large dent in fuel tank because there were some mighty huge rocks we had to run over. Windscreen started misting up near the end but the stage seemed shorter than the 10km stage from the day before. However, the day was not over and we had the stage 1 and 2 again, plus the super special – where I wouldn’t be on comfortable gravel.

The repeat of the first Sunday morning stage, although the conditions were worse, saw us managing a 17 sec quicker time. Drove to repeat SS2 to find there had been a large accident and Bruce Herbert onwards still hadn’t done the stage – while the co-driver in the car was being airlifted to hospital, the whole field just toured through the stage. Next up, superspecial stage around the streets of Dunedin. I’d watched this the year before and noticed how many seem to crash going around it, so was deep breathing leading up to it. Our team made a tactical decision to not run my Type-R tyres and instead run old gravels as our ‘weather man’ (thanks Lance) situated in town had said ‘its raining!!!’. Super Special stage

However scary the track looked, it wasn’t! It was good fun, wasn’t nice watching Dermot and another competitor nearly crash head on in front of me but all in all I thoroughly enjoyed myself – wanted to go around again but David told me to ‘drive back in’. That was it, we finished. Gained 19 points towards our championship, although we couldn’t gain back the very large amount of time we needed to gain back we still had a damn good try at it and enjoyed the car and roads.

Service crew at workHuge thanks going to Carl Rabbidge who kept us focused and organised not only for the event, but in the weeks leading up to it. Huge thanks also to Lloyd and Hugh Owen, Warren Algie, Kevin Newton and the other Owen Brothers Service crew), my very supportive and very onto it parents and sister who were also part of the service crew Mum, Dad and Caity. David who was great and the poor guy seemed to have more than three jobs – motivator, old school master (cracking the knuckles) and note reader – what more could I ask for!?!? Victory Automotive for going over the car (I was the only one in 2WD Championship to have my seals drilled and the only, in the whole championship to have them wired – they were all very impressed), thanks to Garry Grant for all the hard work he has put into my car leading up to the event and the inspirational words of advice on Saturday night, very much appreciated it. Deane and Bert Buist who built me up an amazing car, the guys at Toyota NZ, Andre' and Lance at Car.co.nz, Gregg at Lemon Check, Roger at Laird Motorsport and the rest of the Psychotic Motorsport team who couldn't be there. Thanks to Michael (in Ireland) who stayed awake to check on my progress and gave great advice! Thanks to all the competitors especially those who helped us out at the event - Rocky and Deane, Dave Strong and Bruce McKenzie, Dermot and Bede, Evan and Daniel, Dean and Laurie, Kayne and Peter, Richard and Hamish, John and Grant, Joe and Nette Lange. And special thanks must also go to the entire Nelson Car Club – for your huge amount of support, it means so much to have it and I’m very proud to be associated with your club.

Huge congratulations to everyone in the rally.

Thanks again to everyone that has helped, next NZ Rally Championship round is Southland – boy I sure can’t wait!!!? If we can carry day 2 results on ......... hopefully we can have a good battle – roll on and hope to see you out there.

Sara

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