A Wet and Watery Rally of Hawkes Bay 2004

I was really looking forward to this rally as it was my 4 th Rally of Hawkes Bay – it being the very first rally I'd entered back in my days of the Datsun. The rally was based mainly around the town of Wairoa, and crewing for the weekend were Ian, Michelle, Sven, JC, Mum, Dad and Caity. After a strong finish at the Rally of Rotorua the whole team was buzzing and committed to making this one a good one. Recce was held on the Friday and it was a gorgeous day, just the kind you would expect in the famously ‘sunny Hawkes Bay '.

Bert was rearing to go for another rally but unfortunately after both Carl and I came down with a tummy bug – we weren't our usual energetic and motivated selves. Rally day seemed to be peak day for my sickness as I struggled to ‘hold it down' between stages! You can understand a co-driver getting car sick, but I think many spectators thought I was the first driver to get car sick.

Torrential rain, the night before the rally, hit the roads we were set to pass over and it was pouring down on the way out to the first stage ( Mohaka Forest ). We knew from recce that it was going to be quite slushy and hard to keep Bert on the road in one particular forest section on this road – with rain overnight and 26 cars (20 of them being 4WD) already having been through the stage, it was a matter of taking a gulp and going for it. Had a few ‘wooooooo's' on this stage, Carl kept me calm and helped us through the tricky stuff – my lack of experience in these sorts of conditions wasn't helping but I sure learnt quickly what NOT to do and starting building on what TO do.

Stage two (Woodlands) was much the same, I feel sorry for the cars at the very end of the field – having 80 odd cars pass through these roads. However this stage was a part forest and county road. Come stage three (Cricklewood) I was having heaps of fun, I really enjoyed the roads, being county roads – faster, flowing and not sludgy, muddy, forest stuff.

The rain kept pouring down and there was no sign of it stopping any time soon. With Kayne Barrie and Jason West out already, the team talked at service and changed the game plan – a finish was very important, to gain points for the championship and to also to learn the most we could in these conditions. A big learning curve came on the Waihi stage, it was the longest stage of the rally being 35.7km long. After giving a photographer and a few spectators a bit of a fright, a couple of corners later we went through a 4R DGW (don't' go wide). Unfortunately I WENT WIDE! It resulted in a pretty fast spin, and the biggest one I've had to date. Took us awhile to get going again and we ended up losing around 30seconds.

The last of the 7 stage rally was Mohaka Forest (stage one repeat) at this point we were wishing we had some mud tyres or a tyre groover as we knew the conditions would be pretty ‘interesting'. At this late stage of the rally, our battle plan was to finish as not much could be gained on this stage but a lot could be lost. The last part of the stage was very difficult to drive, the slushy, muddy conditions made it quite an interesting experience at times. Though, I must admit that for the first time in the whole day I was able to turn my windscreen wipers off for most of the stage! We finished and started the long drive back to Napier. We entered a regroup and when released, found that the car wouldn't start after I let him have a rest! We had a few km of driving through town left before we'd officially finish the rally (crossed the finish ramp) and it was very scary trying to get Bert to turn over – he just didn't want to fire. Luckily after holding our breaths for a few minutes, and for no apparent reason, he started. Relieved we drove to the finish line. We later traced the problem to a fuse that was falling out after all the jiggling around.

We ended up getting another 4 th in the 2WD NZ Rally Championship class, but that was enough to propel us to our same position after the Hawkes Bay Rally last year – 2nd in the Championship. This time, only 1 point behind leader Jason West. It has also ensured that I'm still sitting 2nd overall in the Junior NZ Rally Championship. That brings it up to 18 rallies I've entered and 18 rallies I've finished in my rallying career to date. The team is very positive about it's position in the championship and I know that we're all very excited about Nelson Rally coming up in 3 weeks time – we're very psyched up for a strong finish and to grab some good points. I'll be working hard on my fitness and strength programmes, and are planning on entering some club events before Nelson to enable me to practice and keep striving for that fully committed, perfectly executed stage I'm dreaming of!

Bring on Nelson.

Sara