Our Rally of Hawkes Bay 2003.

After a long journey from Nelson to Hastings on Wednesday, the whole team was looking forward to the Rally of Hawkes Bay.

During our trip, we stopped off at Toyota New Zealand in Palmerston North to meet some of the staff and introduce the car to them. It was great to talk to them and answer their questions.

Early Thursday, with an awesome recce vehicle loaned to us by Hawkes Bay Commercials, David and I were off to spend the day over in Wairoa recceing the roads of the rally. The roads were in great condition, but there seemed to be a fair few dead animals on the side of the roads (!?!?!?!). There was an awesome bakery in Wairoa, which is highly recommended by not only me but our service crew too. After a whole day of recce, plus driving 150km there and another 150km back from Wairoa, David and I were pretty tired.

Friday dawned with a bit of rain; we all had our fingers crossed that it would ease off as the Gwavas stages can get quite slippery. However, we were ready to attack anything that came our way. Dave and I were awake at 5.00am for three more stages of recce, where i'd be faced with the famous Gwavas forest stages again (Kirsty and I remember these well after it having nearly ended our last year’s Hawkes Bay rally). Through the last recce stage (triple bridges - which is run on a riverbank) it was a great experience to be following Richard Mason and Laurie Brenssell and watching their lines. Wow was I looking forward to attacking this stage at speed in the rally car, there was everything in it from mud, water, jumps and bumps and a few tight corners to keep you honest.

The car was running like a dream and we had Sven, Ian, Michelle, dad, ma and Caity all on hand as service crew, now we had to see if the driver was up to it. Friday evening, our rally began. I LOVE the night stages – though I have only raced in night twice before, we had purchased a good light pod off Deane Buist at Palmside and the lights were awesome.

Stage one was great but shorter than stage two and had been shortened even more because of an especially muddy section. I was having great fun on this stage, we were equipped with excellent Dunlop tyres which were great on all the different road surfaces that this stage threw at us. It was a big confidence boost at the start line to know that the most important part of the car was of the best quality. Stage two was just as wicked, we had a problem with dust on this one – and because of this the light reflected back to us but I was thorougly enjoying it. Very sad to see Rex Vizible out on the first stage, other than that not many victims were claimed. However after unfortunately taking out some wildlife I have now been dubbed Pukeko Randall. The crew topped off two great stages by working like clockwork on the car, making use of every minute of the service, ensuring the car would not let us down. And thanks to the many spectators waiting around in the cold at the service park to support us.

Day two, we were up bright and early as half the crew left Hastings almost an hour before Dave and I, for the 150km tour to Wairoa. After some fuel and tyres, we were ready to rock. Stage three was awesome, it was a workout and I really enjoyed it. Come stage four we knew that the finish line was in sight and a NZRC 2WD podium finish for the championship would be a reality with a finish. Can’t remember much of the rest of the stages until the last one, but they all ran smoothly.

The last stage of the rally was only around 10km long; the rally would not be won but could easily be lost on this stage. It has to be one of the most exciting stages I’ve done, it was slippery and slidy, rough and muddy and wow was I in heaven!! We finished this stage but would have been quite happy to keep going, awesome fun and I'm already looking forward to doing it again next year.

As we drove up the finish ramp back in Hastings, I was very tired but really happy with our result. A 4th in the 2WD class gave us the points we needed to finish 2nd overall in the New Zealand Rally championship 2WD class, with the two legends Deane Buist and Rocky Hudson taking it out with an awesome consistent caning of the rest of the field. A much deserved win guys.

Wasn’t it awesome to see a Toyota one-two in the 2wd championship!

So back to reality, with the NZRC championship over I feel lost, for the whole year the team had been working and focusing on the championship and its all over. Many thanks to all our supporters out there who helped us achieve and then exceed our goals. Ian, Michelle, Sven, Carl, dad, mum and Caity worked really well and I was always fully confident that the car would be in the best order possible after each service. Thanks also to our sponsors – the amount of support from them has been awesome and it’s been an honour to be associated with them all. Thanks to David for co-driving for us this season - we've both learned heaps!

So what now? We’ll be finishing off our Mainland series campaign, after missing both Catlins and Canterbury rally because they were held too close for comfort to Hawkes Bay and Rotorua rallies. We’ll be looking to get some consistent results to finish the season on a high with a determined campaign in both championships. Nelson rally will be on the 7th of September and the roads in this corner of the country are something not to miss. With several club events, rallysprints and the Westland Rally our season is far from over. But at the moment my attention will turn to bursary mock exams and planning for next years campaign of the 2WD championship – it’s a great and affordable way to get involved, learn from and drive the very best of what New Zealand has to offer.

So now, the car is off to Bowater Toyota in Nelson to get a few minor things attended to before Rally of Nelson.

Sara.