The 2003 Rally of Nelson saw our three Toyota service crew flying down from Palmerston North, joining Mum, Dad and Caity, with Carl Rabbidge of Timaru who occupied the co-drivers seat. Bert was looking great after the usual intense preparation to ensure maximum reliability.

It was excellent to meet the Nelson supporters on Saturday at the pre-event display held in Richmond. Unfortunately we had run out of posters so were unable to give any out, but it was great to talk to everyone.

At our pre-event team discussion we set the aim to try hard and Carl added he wanted us to bend and break panels to see how well the crew could work.

Saturday morning at 6.45 we sent half the crew to Tapawera which was to be the service park for the whole rally. They managed to score a great concrete spot with plenty of room for our set-up – and even better, right next to the barbecue run by the local school!

Back in Richmond, our rally started at 8.36am with our seeding of 53rd on the road (following our results from early rounds in Dunedin and Invercargill). First stage was 26km odd and I remembered it well from the past 2 years – yes, many will also remember the Rout road signpost and how we took it out in style in 2001. This was an excellent stage, we moved up to 38th overall.

Stage two was around 23km long and with instruction from Carl, we worked on our speed through the 7 and 8 corners (the fastest in the note system) and our braking into corners. This stage had the famous ford in it where you get airborne but there is a reasonable right hander after it. Through this stage, we finished 33rd. All was going well, however after getting too airborne over a skid site and having a very dodgy and heavy landing, we decided to change set-up and stiffen the front suspension at next service! This ended up helping us on the repeat of this stage and we managed much faster starts with more traction with the front wheels.

Stage three was Borlase road, around 13.73km long but certainly one to keep you on your toes. This stage was my least favourite, many found it rough but it was hard-based, and was hard to find a rhythm for it. We started having problems with dust, gaining 35th position and 33 sec on the guy in front, a further 1.11 min on the car in front of that.

Stage four was Spooners Camp and 12.24km long, we lost notes for some of this stage, because of taking different lines through skid sites than the note maker. However, I really enjoyed this fast and flowing stage.

Stage five was a repeat of stage two, we wanted a better time here and pushed hard. Over the ford we pushed a little too hard and were able to give a detailed description of the surrounding trees! We managed 28th out of the 41 still running, were 14 seconds faster than our first time through and gained 43 seconds on the car in front and 1.30 mins on the car in front of him. We knew we were pushing harder because we had to run the windscreen wipers for most the stage – the forces were such that the windscreen washer water kept spouting out onto the windscreen around every few corners.

In the services, Sven had to re-bolt the battery down every time because the force of our landing over jumps was so much that it would come loose. The crew also had to borrow fuel from Scotty after the car was guzzling through it, doing an average of around 1km less per litre of fuel than in all our other events this year!

Stage six was a repeat of stage three – Borlase road. Power would be less of a disadvantage for us on this stage, with most being on flat or downhill. We managed to finish it 30 seconds faster than our first time through and a placing of 30th overall. Gaining 44 seconds on the car in front.

Service C, Carl and I had yet to make the crew work hard with damage – a broken wing mirror, underbody protection falling off and bad scratches were all we could throw at them.

Stage seven was a repeat of stage four – Spooners Camp. Carl figured out what was going on with the notes through skid sites and was able to keep on top of them for another fun run.

Stage eight was part of stage one in reverse, plus some extra - totalling 32.43km long. Was really enjoying this stage until we caught both cars in front and subsequently had very bad dust – losing 30-60 seconds on our closest competitors. Carl gave me instructions on braking through the dust and braking late but several times we had to just crawl along in low gears. However it was an experience that I have learned much from. The wide and hard based forest roads were in excellent condition and were awesome fun.

So at the end of the rally, we lost only a couple of overall placings from the last stage and I learned heaps. Carl kept me very relaxed, the car ran faultlessly all day - like Toyota’s seem to do.

Many thanks to our hard working service crew who although had no panel beating to do, worked hard to ensure the car was always working well. I know we got a few stares from people wondering what we were on about taking all tyres off and changing them at each service, doing spanner checks and then waterblasting the car – but that is what has ensured we have had a reliable season so far!!

To the organisers of the rally, it was an excellent rally and something the locals can boast about – great to hear it’ll be a national round next year too.

Well done to Malcolm Stewart and Catherine Dobbie – great drive to win the rally. Congratulations also to John Giltrap and Grant Marra for second and Mark Tapper and Jeff Judd for third placing overall. To Noddy, huge well done, first local home and winning 4 out of the 8 stages, after losing around 3min on the first stage but finishing a very impressive 4th overall.

Thanks to the many people who cheered us on over the weekend, your support was huge and made us feel really special. Nana and Grandad got out there and spectated also (from very early in the morning) so thanks for that – and the crew really appreciated the baking as well.

So with plenty of ideas floating around in the team, next year is set to be a great year. There will be several changes and improvements being made to ensure we’re well equipped for another go at the NZRC 2WD championship. Unfortunately this year will be our last year in the Mainland Championship as we will be moving to Palmerston North.

We’re now in preparation for the Blenheim Rallysprint and maybe the Westland Rally (no Clinton Anderson, I’m too scared to co-drive!), with it being held mid bursary exams.