At the finish - photo courtesy of car.co.nzWhat an awesome event for the team, not only did we come away with a class win but also experience and plenty to carry on to our next round – the Rally of Hawkes Bay on the 15th and 16th of August.

This was to be my 11th rally, 3rd in the Toyota and with Sven, Ian, Michelle, ma and pa servicing, it was a 3 car Toyota team – both vans and the rally car.

Leading up to the rally I’d be warned it’ll be my toughest challenge yet, with a busy lead-up to it the team was ready for the challenge. The weekend before the rally, we went out to our testing road to make sure the car was set up perfectly – after several runs and several adjustments (its amazing how plus or minus 2mm can make such a huge difference), we managed to improve around 15 seconds over two km. The team was very excited with this and looking forward to see if we could build on this at Rotorua.

David and I flew in to Rotorua on Wednesday, while the rest of the crew drove up Wednesday and Thursday. This was to be my first visit to Rotorua and enjoyed a spot of shopping and sight seeing. The team thoroughly enjoyed Thursday with Bert on display at City Focus, it was great to get out there and meet some of our supporters. After several hours of signing posters we had sore hands but were very pleased to meet everyone. Cheers to Zane for helping us out, giving us the low down on Rotorua and posing for photos with international photographers! It was quite a mission getting you out of the car, you seemed to enjoy the drivers seat!

After the ceremonial start, Bert was off to Parc Ferme for the night. Friday dawned fine - we were worried it would rain. Because the Clubman's field were not allowed to do recce, we were a little cautious on the roads. During the very long touring stage (around 200km), we were sad to see Deane Buist and Rocky Hudson parked up on the side of the road – luckily we didn’t slow down too much as the story goes there was a plan to lay across the road, push us out, change door banners and continue the rally in our car.

The famous Motu was the first stage. I’d had a lot of warnings about this stage – the most famous in New Zealand. I had been working up my fitness for this monster of a stage – though it had been split in two I knew it would be a mission. But I LOVED it, the twisty and tight nature meant we could get into a good rhythm, several cars unfortunately didn’t make it through though. Stage two, the second half of the motu, was slightly longer and I found this one harder but we came away with a good time and after catching but not passing the competitor in front on both stages we were happy. After getting to the end I smiled and said to David “we just did the Motu!!!”, It felt great to get through this successfully. Bert in action

Stages 3 and 4 were a lot faster and poor Bert was unable to stretch his legs like the Mitsubishis and Subaru’s in front so we struggled to keep up on these stages. Stage three, Dave felt quite ill at the end, luckily he opened the door before he proceeded to leave his mark on the Rotorua roads. Yay, finally made a co-driver sick!

At the last service, David and I noticed a strange noise coming from the front of the car. At service the crew looked the car through and through but couldn’t find our problem. So after the long drive back to Parc Ferme David and I noted several things about the sound, discussing it with the team over dinner ready to look at first service in the morning. While talking to Sven – he concluded there were three things it could be “a stone in the disc, an ABS sensor mounting disc OR that you’re both crazy!!!”. Through all this, with his Croatian accent, the whole table erupted in laugher – we all hoped for option three!

While Dave had a meeting with Carl in the spa, the rest of the team yacked, preparing for day two then headed to bed – ready for a tough day ahead. Day two again dawned fine and we arrived at Parc Ferme early to set up while the team prepared to work hard on the standard jobs (changing tyres, checking everything), leaving Sven concentrating on the ‘funny noise’ – after team psychologist (mum) came to the conclusion ‘you are crazy but there is a strange noise”.

Once the car was let out, they jacked us up while I sat in it revving it to try and replicate the noise. After about 2 mins, Sven's smile broke out - he found the problem. With all the rocks, part of the disconnected ABS system had come loose and was making a racket – nothing serious and a job that could be done at the next service park.

Enjoyed the first two stages of the morning, but sad to see Kayne and Peter then Dave and Bruce on the side of the road with mechanical problems. At this stage with Jason West out on day one, we found ourselves leading the NZRC 2WD class with 4 stages to go. With only minor problems and a potentially dodgy headgasket we wanted to just ‘bring her home’. We thought day two stages were pretty rough after finding ourselves bouncing off ruts all over the show, but nothing compared to the last stage of the day. At this time, our fuel pump was making a noise and a half after the tank being smashed by the ruts. We braced ourselves for a rough stage, it seemed to last forever though it was only around 12km long, David just paced me through it as we struggled to keep the car on the road. But after that last short straight we were at the end, the time keeper telling me it was nothing compared to what they used to drive over in the ‘days’ – boy this was 4WD country I can’t imagine what it would have been back then.

With a nervous drive back to the last service park, we were happy to see the crew. No one wanting to celebrate quite yet with a long drive left back to Rotorua. Sven was saying, we were right up on technology – “while other crews were asking officials for results, listening to radio broadcasts, we phoned up nana who was watching them on the computer (thanks car.co.nz!).”

On the last touring stage, though making a loud noise, bumped and bruised Bert ran fine, we took a detour around the block after we took the wrong turn but finally arriving at the finish ramp to find the officials saying “we’ve been waiting for you”. They cleared the line of rally cars for us to get through, we drove straight through the middle and watched the 1st, 2nd and 3rd overall cars over the ramp - then they called us up. All a little shocked, we drove up as they reported we’d won the 2WD NZ Rally Championship class, unfortunately we missed out on champagne because I am underage, but we drove off the ramp and the smiles on the teams faces told it all – it was our best result to date, our first 1st placing and what a huge but great rally to achieve it on. After arriving at the motel the champagne was sprayed, all over the car and the team.

TeamSmiles were still wide on our faces as we were spectators and watched the main field on Sunday, it was great to get out there and support the guys, and watch their driving and braking lines. Congratulations to Bruce and Rob for winning the rally and Grp A NZRC class, also to Mark and Jeff for winning Grp N NZRC class.

Thanks to Laurie and the crew who organised and ran such a great event, it was very well organised and one of the best events we’ve done – highly recommend this rally. Cheers to Sven, Ian, Michelle, mum, dad, Carl and all the other guys that came and lent a hand at service, it was a huge team effort and the result is yours to share.

David gained more experience using notes and he did well to not lose his place too much on some of those repetitive stages. Thanks to our computer operators, keeping us up to date with results – nana and grandad who were back here in Nelson (and also did some serious baking before the rally for us), also to Lance for the lend of a water-blaster and Matt Burke Engineering for the use of the generator. Thanks to Victory Automotive and Garry Grant Engineering for the preparation of the car before the rally, the car was very reliable. The Dunlop tyres were great also, they held up very well and unlike many other crews – we had no problem with punctures. Thanks to all our supporters, it was awesome.

Our Sunday night celebrations were darkened when we found out about Roger and Mark's fatal crash at an American Rally. We were very sad to hear that the Subaru drivers died instantly after hitting a tree – our thoughts are with their families, team members and Subaru. Team mates of Michael and we send him our love too.

At the moment we are second in the 2WD NZ Rally Championship, 4 points behind leader Deane Buist leading into the final round of Hawkes Bay, we’ll be looking for a finish and can’t wait to get stuck into the roads.

Sara.