Gardner claims second Catlins rally win

Rhys Gardner, of Balclutha, took his second Catlins Coast Rally victory with a dominant performance in tricky conditions on Saturday.

The local driver was the top seed for the event in his Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 9 and he and co-driver Alex Ramsay, of Dunedin, took the lead in the first stage and were never headed, winning all but two stages.

As he did when taking his first victory in 2012, Gardner put in a red hot stage time almost a minute quicker than anyone else on the penultimate stage near Balclutha to ensure victory but he was comfortably in front even before that point. Gardner earned the Darryl Robinson Memorial Trophy for the second time in three years for the win.

Gardner said the result was "great for our team and those that follow us".

Talking about the treacherous special stage two that featured snow after icy weather the previous day he said: "Anything over throttle in fourth gear just caused wheelspin. We went a little bit wide a couple of times but nothing major. It was about slowing down to get through it."

While he blitzed the field in stage seven he revealed that part of the rally actually caused the greatest concern. "We had a fuel problem late in the day and the car threatened to stop in there. It would have been interesting to see our time without that!"

Richard Baddock, of Christchurch, drove a consistent rally in his Subaru WRX to finish second, never being outside the top three in any stage.

Third was another local, Mike Verdoner, after a superb drive in his Ford Escort, the first 2-wheel-drive car home.

Verdoner recorded top 10 times all day long and was another to impress on the penultimate stage. He and son Jareb, who was co-driving in his first rally, won the Kerry O'Donohue Memorial Trophy for being the first entirely South Otago crew home.

Dean Bond made it three Balclutha drivers in the top four as he finished fourth with sister Tania in the co-driver's seat. However, his car's injectors blocked as each stage progressed as well as a puncture in the penultimate stage. The 2011 and 2009 winner bounced back to win the final stage in front of a large crowd in his home town.

Deane Buist, of Christchurch, was fifth in his BDA Escort followed by Carter Strang and Stewart Robbie, of Invercargill, in their EVO 6. Regan Ross, of Kaikoura, was seventh after early problems in his Ford Escort although he was able to win stage two, a slippery stage that saw several lower seeded drivers crack the top 10. Trevor Crowe, of Christchurch, was eighth in his unique Subaru WRX ute with Neville Krammer, of Wallacetown, in a Subaru Legacy ninth and Barry Mills, of Balclutha, 10th.

Gore driver Jim McDonald narrowly missed the top 10 while Steve and Mike Wellington, of Dunedin, finished 12th to claim the Glen Shirlaw Memorial Trophy for the first Otago Sports Car Club crew to finish.

More good performances came from Murray Marshall, who was fifth fastest in stage two and also had a sixth fastest stage time on his way to 15th overall. Stage two also saw James Worker, of Mokereta, seventh in the stage in his Ford Fiesta while Phillip Terry, of Invercargill, was ninth in a Toyota Levin

. Tony Quinn, the owner of Highlands Motorsport Park, climbed from 52 in the seedings to 26th place in a rare gravel rally outing.

Among the casualties were fourth seed, Jeff Judd, of Christchurch, who retired his Subaru Impreza WRX with engine problems, Derek Ayson, of Gore, who blew an engine, ending a fantastic run of reliability at this event and Marcus Van Klink, of Christchurch, who left the road.

Bond took Class D, the 4-wheel-drive class, from Strang and Crowe while the Class E battle for pre-2000 4-wheel-drives went to Krammer from Jason Keach, who claimed 14th place, and Murray Marshall. Regan Ross claimed Class G (classic vehicles greater than 1701cc) from Mills and Tony Gosling, of Christchurch, in an Escort in 13th place.

Winton driver Brendon Mitchell won Class F for the smaller engined classic cars in his Datsun 1600, finishing one place ahead of Wyndham's Nigel Marshall, who finished 31st in his Datsun 1200.

Marshall had been extremely competitive all day but punctured in stage two and then got caught behind slower cars through the snow in the stage. George Keast was third in his Ford Escort.

The competitive Class B for 2-wheel-drive cars from 1301-1600cc went to Kevin Laird, of Alexandra, in a Toyota Levin, from Graham McRae, of Gore, and Phillip Terry. In Class C (2-wheel-drive cars 1601cc & over), Deane Buist took the honours from Aucklander Chris Woudenberg and Carl Balani, of Christchurch.

Class A for the smaller 2-wheel-drive cars went to Carl Morris, of Gore, in 42nd place ahead of Scott Levings, of Cromwell, and Les Summerfield, of Christchurch, who had 13-year-old Amy Hudson co-driving in her first ever rally.

Support for the 2014 Catlins Coast Rally came from the Rosebank Lodge, Vodafone, SouthRoads, Owaka Motors, Fulton Hogan, Century/Yuasa Batteries and Catlins Cafe.

The rally was round four of the Clearwater Painting Mainland Rally Championship and round two of the Laird Motorsport Southern Rally Series.

The Southland Times