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ESCC rally: Eight original competitors return 31 years on


When the competitors line up for the start of the ESCC 50th Anniversary Gore Rally on Saturday morning among the 95 starters will be 8 drivers who competed in the very first Gore Rally 31 years ago.

When the competitors line up for the start of the ESCC 50th Anniversary Gore Rally on Saturday morning among the 95 starters will be 8 drivers who competed in the very first Gore Rally 31 years ago.

The 1975 Gore Rally was the first rally held south of Christchurch and while the event has not been held for several years it has been resurrected this year as part of the Eastern Southland Car Club's 50th Anniversary celebrations. The ESCC 50th Anniversary Gore Rally will be Round 2 of the Magnum Prestige Mainland Rally Series and the third and final round of the Laird Motorsport Southern Rally Series.

Rob Gerard, now of Christchurch, was the winner of the 1975 Gore Rally in a Mazda RX3. Seeded 4th for the event he headed off Roger Rayne to win. The day was particularly memorable for Gerard as it was the first time he had led a rally and the first time he had run first on the road in one. He well remembers the slippery grass and pine needles in some of the stages. Gerard returns 31 years on with son Mark in the co - drivers seat of his Toyota Corolla DX.

While the 1975 event was Gerard's first rally win, another followed soon after in the Westland Rally and then came a fourth place overall in the National Rally Championship in the near standard Mazda. Gerard say's this year's rally is all about a skid in the forest. "I'm not sure if it's a rally or a reunion - but it will be great fun", he jokes.

Barry Robinson's rallying exploits around New Zealand in a variety of cars have become legendary. He very nearly won the National Rally Championship in the 1980's and as recently as two year's ago he was leading the Catlins Coast Rally in his Nissan Pulsar against some of the quickest young drivers in the South Island. However 31 years ago the Gore Rally was Robinson's first. He entered a Triumph Vitesse that day and managed to finish just outside the top ten. The Vitesse was an interesting car to drive he recalls but he, like most of the other drivers that day remembers the pine needles in the Pukerau Forest. "If you got off line all you could hear was the swearing", he laughs. "It was a learning experience, although I had worn a crash helmet before in hillclimbs and in circuit racing". Robinson's daughter Anna has flown back from Perth to co - drive with her father". Robinson will start 15th in the Nissan Pulsar.

Brent Rawstron contested the first Gore Rally in a Mini Cooper. "I remember the forest roads were smooth which was acceptable for a small car like the Mini", he say's. "I can't remember our result but I do recall that we finished. I was very keen to come back when I heard the rally was happening again because it is almost like new territory and new roads for us. That is unusual these days in New Zealand". While the rally is similar to the original 31 year's ago, the opportunity to come back to roads that you don't compete on every year appeals. Rawstron has stayed involved in rallies since those early days - either organising or driving. He has been particularly competitive in recent Catlins Coast Rallies in his Ford Escort BDA. However for this event he will be at the wheel of a left - hand drive Porsche 911RS. "The left hand drive is a bit of a learning curve", he admits. "I've only driven it at the Ashley Forest Rallysprint - it was used by Italian pairing Alex Fioro and Fabrizia Pons at the Otago Rally earlier in the year". Rawstron and co - driver John Kennard are seeded 25th.

John Metherell of Balclutha was the top seed for the 1975 Gore Rally. However it all started badly for John with a broken back axle mount in his Torana XU1 in the opening stage. The car was taken to a farmer's yard, the rear of the car lifted by front end loader, and fixed with the farm's electric welder. By the time he resumed Metherell had missed a stage and was out of the running but he did win one of the stages later in the rally. He is absolutely looking forward to this year's rally. "I'm not too sure what to expect. Forests keep changing so I'm not sure what the roads will be like". Metherell has a new bodyshell on the Hillman Avenger he rallies these days after a crash in the 2005 Catlins Coast Rally. "The car looks great, (fellow competitor) Mike Verdoner has done a great job. I want to be there at the end so I won't be too flamboyant", he adds. Jane Blair will co - drive for Metherell and the duo are seeded 47th. His service crew contains Ian Dickson, one of his early co - drivers and Trevor Stark who helped organise the 1975 rally.

Oamaru driver Allan Wills has great memories of the 1975 Gore Rally. "I remember starting in the main street of Gore, wet pine needles in Stage 1 and an autocross for the last stage. It was my second ever rally but it went on to become my favourite event. That was because of a combination of the roads and the people. When Roger Laird (of the ESCC) told me they were contemplating a special event to mark the club's 50th I was keen to come. It is a bit of a nostalgia trip for an old fellow. I know the club always put a lot of work in. I bet there will be a table of old fellows talking about the good old days at the end of the event". Wills and co - driver Greg Scott line up 55th for the event in a Ford Escort. In 1975 Wills drove a twincam Escort and he still has that car today. "It is in the Motor Museum in Oamaru. I actually thought about resurrecting it to do this event".

Timaru's Warren Burt returns to the Gore Rally after only making it through two stages in the 1975 event. "I was in a Mini with drum brakes and I was going like a lunatic", he jokes. "On the touring stage between the second and third special stages our gearbox broke - it probably saved our lives"! "We were out of control rather than in control". Burt had gone from his #42 seeding to 5th place in those two stages. Burt and co - driver Mike Reid are seeded 62nd this weekend.

1975 was Ian Begg's first rally as a driver. "I had a pretty relaxed attitude, no -one knew much about rallying anyway in those days. I had a Mazda Capella Coupe with zillions of horsepower but it didn't handle very well. I still got third though", he say's. Reflecting on this year's rally he say's, "it's a sobering thing when I used to be seeded at number one for events and now I am seeded 68th! I don't know if everyone else has got faster or if I have got slower. I know I don't take the calculated risks that I used to anymore, you become more conservative, but more cunning too". After enjoying the Eastern Southland Car Club's 50th Anniversary recently he is looking forward to the rally and catching up with his contemporaries. One of his former co - drivers is travelling down from Waiheke Island to catch up with Begg at the event. The co - drivers seat will be filled by Begg's son Jeremy. The duo drive a brand new VW Golf GTi - "it will be quite quick", say's Begg. "We are preparing it for the Silver Fern Rally and we'll take it on the gravel and see what falls off"!

69th seed Peter Jackson of Dunedin will drive a Citroen Xsara with his 16 - year - old son Antony co -driving. "When I was told about the rally being on the calendar again I had no second thoughts", he say's. "The roads were fantastic down there. I did quite a few Gore rallies", he say's. "I do remember the Arthurton area - the forest was hellishly slippery". "I remember the Rankleburn stage. At the end of the stage there was a fast straight with a long left hander - I was braking hard, going sideways and the tyres were rubbing on the wheel arches"! Jackson's 1975 car was a Morris 1300 and he started 35th.

One man who was in the 1975 field but is not returning to compete in 2006 is still well known in the region. The 22nd seed in that original Gore Rally was Tracy Hicks - now better known as the Mayor Of The Gore District.

The rally takes place this Saturday with the start at the Scenic Circle Croydon Hotel in Gore at 8.15am. Competitors then tackle 9 high - speed Special Stages in the Gore and Tapanui area before returning to the finish at the Hotel at approximately 4.00pm that afternoon.
Lindsay Beer

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