How the West was ?

2003 Rally of Westland

Our final event for the year was the 2003 Rally of Westland. Carl Rabbidge offered to co-drive like he had done in Nelson Rally, and because it was being run without notes, our plan was to have ‘two sets of eyes’ meaning he could help drive and teach me where my weak points are, how to overcome these, and to ultimately work on getting faster. This was to be my first blind rally in over a year and I was a little nervous as to how reading the road would go but with the experienced Carl there, I was confident we could have a good crack at it. After two bursary exams on Thursday, we were all set to roll on down to Greymouth on Friday.

It was excellent to see the quality field they had – the make-up of the top ten was most exciting with many battles sure to take place. The three Honda Integra Type R’s of Joe McAndrew, Shane Murland and Garry Smith, all decked out in almost identical livery, were an amazing sight.

Come Saturday morning and with non-laminated door numbers we were forced to put our numbers inside our windows – yes that’s right there was rain, rain and more rain. Ok for the driver as we just have to sit in the cars, but not so great for the co-driver who has to stand in the rain to clock us in, the service crew who has to work in muddy and wet conditions and in our case with only the Explorer to work from (a truck is now on the wish-list). Not to mention the poor timing and start crews, can’t be much fun. However, from a driver's point of view it keeps the roads interesting and you have to drive to the conditions which steps it up a level and they become even more of a challenge - but I’m always up for a good one of those.

Stage one we were flying, buggar not having a blind rally for so long! – it didn’t seem to matter as we blasted our way through. Unfortunately we came to a ford that had turned more into the Roaring Meg. Garry Smith in the nice Honda Integra had seized his engine after not keeping to the right enough of the ford in crossing. So far, 18 cars had been held up because of it, and we waited for about 2-3 minutes until the way was clear and we were able to cross. The car in front graciously pulled over for us, as he knew we were on a mission, the car behind hadn’t yet caught up. Once we got going again, we were most unfortunate to catch the car in front – his speed increased and he caught the car in front of him. We did try our hardest to pass him, but were unsuccessful in attracting his attention in order for him to let us past.

Very disappointed, we continued our rally. After more investigation, it was found that a co-driver of one of the cars in front had told the field waiting at the ford (minus us) that they were to tour through. Although we had not been told, with the Motorsport manual in mind we would still have considered the road open anyway, unless informed by an official. All cars that lost time (minus us) were given assessed times of 12.30 whereas we had to suffer with our time of 13.19. Others we exchanged times with for the rest of the day, that were not held up, got around the late 11.40 mark.

So that was our rally for position basically over, however there was still much to learn from Carl, the roads and the car.

Stage three was around Lake Brunner and it wasn’t hard to re-focus after this incident as I knew Carl would do his best to take control of the situation. It was horrible to see Clinton Anderson in the lake - it was a nasty corner that tightened up on you and apparently there have been a fair few near misses there in the years before. Clint's car nose-dived about 5 metres onto a huge rock, then tipped into the lake and was submerged in about 4 metres of water. Luckily, they managed to get out after spending a couple of minutes underwater. Both Clint and co-driver Kelvin McCaughey were OK, but pretty shaken up (as you would be). A crane and diver were required to recover the car which looked pretty sick.

The stage apart from this incident was excellent– until we hit the apex of a left hand corner and there was a mighty large bump there. We flew into the air and the force was such that even the glove box flew open and the indicator and windscreen wipers came on. This meant we damaged our front left suspension and had to limp back to service with hugely off centre steering. To top it off, we went around a right-hander and over some large rocks to smash the right front of the car too. Unfortunately, we lost a bit of time on this stage but the crew worked a good 10min service and we were off again with only slightly off centre steering.

By now, the weather was clearing up and it was becoming quite a nice day, which made it a lot nicer for everyone. Going down the straights hard out in fifth wasn’t easy under heavy rain as it was almost impossible to see the corner coming up so all were happy when the sun shone through.

After learning my lesson in the first few stages, we discussed methods of getting the car onto the straights faster so that we could get a higher terminal speed on them. We also worked on gaining confidence on brows so that I never again, when I momentarily lift off the throttle approaching a 5th gear brow, ever hear the word "blouse" come through my intercom!! I was also learning the importance of breaking the road into sections in my mind for when we reuse the road, even in the other direction.

Stage 6 was cancelled due to communication problems and all but one car behind us had to tour through stage 7 as well because of road closure running out.

Stage 7 and 8 were really good for us. The rhythm was working well, the car was mint and it just all clicked and came together as it had on the first stage. Poor Bert was screaming for mercy up the straights and we were maxed out!

So, the end of our season was left in a confused state. I wanted more, they were excellent roads and a good challenge, as every corner and every straight is different it makes every one a new challenge! It’s quite upsetting to have lost a good overall and class position from a misunderstanding on the first stage and even after several discussions, our time was never changed. So we finished 27th overall, not what we had aimed for but nevertheless another finish. John Silcock took out the rally, with Deane Buist and John Giltrap behind. Deane Buist taking out the Mainland series drivers championship with Grant Marra co-driving for John Giltrap taking out the top co-driver placing.

So what now? A new car, new co-driver, a new series to run up north (as well as NZRC) and an aim to do Rally New Zealand, something I’ve been dreaming about since I was little. I have learnt a whole heap this year, its surprising to think about how far we have come in such a short time, we managed to take 25% or 20min off our total time from last years Westland Rally even with our problems this year so the improvement we have made is more of an achievement than our overall placing for the rally. Having learnt much from Carl’s expertise I'm very much so looking forward to learning more, I’m hungry for better times and who knows, maybe we can find another 25% next year?

Sara