Top seed Glenn Smith said before last Saturday’s Taranaki Tarmac Rally that he rated Glen Inkster as the greatest threat.
Smith probably didn’t know how right he was, and come Saturday he had much more pressing problems to worry about than the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6.5 driver who was running away with Smith’s home rally, an event the Taranaki businessman has won four times, three of them co-driven by Colin Smith.
The Smiths were in dire straits in the Sam Murray-run Subaru Impreza WRX STi. The braking problems they’d encountered in the previous round of the North Island Rally Series at Waitomo, had returned in spades.
At Waitomo they’d run at one time with only three brakes working and in Taranaki, they did Special Stage 3 with only the handbrake operating.
They were 20th on that stage, but had averaged a shade under 105km/h (with no brakes), on a test that had been won by Neill Marshall (Evo 3) at 114.26km/h.
Smith had salvaged a rally win at Waitomo – in Taranaki he came home eighth overall, but second in the North Island series section, behind Marshall.
That result gave Smith victory in the mini-series run over the Waitomo and Taranaki tarmac rallies.
But while Smith was struggling with a lack of brakes, Inkster was running away with the rally.
He was fast straight out of the box, winning the first high speed stage, and opening a two-second lead over national champion Richard Mason (WRX STi).
He extended his lead to 10 seconds on SS2, which he won by four seconds from Joe McAndrew (Nissan Skyline GTR).
Marshall, who won the 2006 Taranaki Rally, won Stage 3, by a second from Mason. Inkster was two seconds further back.
Inkster’s lead was now nine seconds but it was the end of any effective opposition to the South Auckland speedster.
Second-placed Mason struck mechanical problems and dropped to third overall after SS4. He was now one minute 14 seconds behind Inkster and would drop out on the next test after breaking an axle on a heavy landing after a crest.
But after SS4, the half-way point of the rally, Mason had been third behind Inkster and Marshall.
Tom Good, giving the New Zealand-built Saker Sprint sports car its rally debut, and running without pacenotes, was fourth.
Fifth was Daynom Templeman (Lancer Evo 6) who was having braking problems.
Charlie Evans, running sixth in his Mazda RX7, was the best-placed 2WD driver.
Smith, who had decided to give it one more stage before making a decision on whether to continue with a car whose brakes he couldn’t trust, bounced back to be fourth-fastest on SS4.
Inkster had won that test, and repeated the feat on Special Stage 5, winning it by 11 seconds from Marshall who ran second, 68 seconds behind. Good was now third.
Stage 6 threw up one of those “what if?” scenarios.
Brad Ayling, who had been in the top three on SS1, had parked his Impreza with clutch problems.
They took the car to the workshop and he re-started in the afternoon, as did McAndrew who had slid off the road on SS3 with a broken wheel on the Nissan supercar.
Ayling won SS6, at a stunning 127.60km/h, with McAndrew just 0.09 seconds behind.
He repeated the feat on the final test, SS7, winning at an eye-popping average of 135.22km/h. McAndrew was just 0.04 seconds behind this time.
Inkster won the rally, by 46 seconds from Marshall, the latter winning the North Island series section.
Good was third in the Saker, followed by Templeman, Evans, Glenn Rosser (WRX), and Stuart Rose (Toyota Hilux Ute).
Smith was eighth. Jason Gill (Evo 6) and Cameron Cox (Evo 3) completed the top 10.
Honda Integra Type R driver Grant Liston continued his unbroken run of class victories and still leads the North Island Series on points.
There were crashes aplenty. Kevin Honiss (WRX) who had been a top five runner early in the event, was one victim. So too was Struan Robertson who had a massive crash in his Lancer Evo.
Story by Mike Stock
Photos of Glen Inkster by Greg Olesen