Gore driver Derek Ayson, along with co-driver Gav McDermott of Christchurch, took the honours in the 2011 Rankleburn Rally in West Otago on Saturday, however the win only came after a battle with fellow Gore driver Andrew Graves
Ayson was the top seed in the event and the win marked his first victory in his latest acquisition, a Mitsubishi EVO 8, in just his second ever rally in the car. The victory was hard fought and after three of the five stages Ayson was trailing Graves by two seconds. Graves had started well, winning the opening stage at Halfway Road by 2 seconds. He and Ayson then tied for the fastest time on the next two stages.
The result was decided on the penultimate stage when Graves punctured. That left Ayson comfortably in front of Neville Krammer of Wallacetown in his Subaru Legacy while Graves recovered to third after a lightning fast tyre change. However the problem cost him 3 minutes 10 seconds. Graves charged through the final stage in the fastest time but Ayson was happy to make sure of the win, the second fastest time being good enough to give him the victory from Neville and Hannah Krammer. Graves and Jared Leebody took third place in their older EVO 3.
At the finish Ayson held a 1 minute 39 second margin over Krammer who did a superb job in his older Subaru Legacy. The Wallacetown driver was third on all but one stage behind Ayson and Graves and second on the other when Graves suffered the puncture. Graves was 23 seconds behind Krammer at the end.
Ayson was disappointed for his mate. "Andrew was doing a superb job in an older car. It would have been really interesting if he had not had the puncture. I would have been more than happy to finish second. We were slow out of the blocks and then we were dead equal on the next two stages." Ayson also revealed he had a quick spin costing about ten seconds on one of the early stages. "After a driver error cost us at Catlins recently I was keen to try and make amends here." Ayson also thanked his co-driver Gav McDermott of Christchurch who made the trip south for the event.
Meanwhile Graves reflected on his day. "It was a real ding dong battle. It was great to be on an even playing field. Most of the roads were new to everybody.The car was going really well. Everything was gelling quite well." Referring to the ultra quick tyre change he grinned. "We were in a bit of a hurry."
Another Gore driver, Craig Abernethy in an EVO 1, was fourth while Kevin Laird of Gore put in a brilliant drive in his Toyota Levin to place fifth, the first two wheel drive car to finish. Seeded nineteenth at the beginning of the day the young Gore driver was in the top six on three of the stages. Philip Terry of Invercargill was close behind Laird to post sixth in his Toyota Trueno after another good performance by one of the younger drivers in the field. The top ten was rounded out by Paul Beattie of Cromwell (EVO 5), Rhys Gardner of Balclutha in a Toyota Trueno, Carter Strang of Invercargill in a Toyota Levin with Winton driver Brendon Mitchell in his Datsun 1600 just two seconds further behind.
Major casualties during the day included Duncan McCrostie of Kaitangata and Paul Goatley of Balclutha in their Nissan Bluebird turbos with driveshaft and gearbox problems respectively plus Clydevales Warner Reid with a turbo problem in his Toyota MR2. Royce Watson of Christchurch retired with engine problems as did Invercargill driver Harry Worker while an impressive drive by Dylan Cameron ended when he bent a strut.
The top three placegetters were ineligible for class honours so the Class D (4-wheel-drive) title went to Craig Abernethy from Paul Beattie and Damian Vincent of Stirling who had tied for eleventh place overall with Craig Barclay of Balclutha. Brendon Mitchell took out Class C (1601cc and over) from Barclay and Gregg Cooper while Laird won Class B (1301-1600cc) from Terry and Gardner. The small car class (0-1300cc) went to Peter Fridd from Jamie Greene.
The Monit Computers novice driver award was won by Gore driver Craig Hewlett in his first rally and the co-driver prize by Stuart Robbie who claimed the title by just two seconds from Gavin Read.
The rally was supported by the MLT/Heartland Hotels Croydon and Ernslaw One Ltd with support from Fulton Hogan and Century Batteries.
The Rankleburn Forest used to form a part of the original Gore Rally route many years ago and the roads of the forest again echoed to the sound of rally cars in both 2006 and 2008 when the Gore Rally was resurrected. After the 2008 event the Eastern Southland Car Club made the decision to no longer alternate their annual rally between Gore and the Catlins but Rankleburn retained a place on the motorsport calendar when a rallysprint was held there last year.