A test day turned into a convincing Tauranga Clubmans Rally victory for young Canterbury driver Matt Summerfield yesterday.
Seeded second for the 50-car event, Summerfield's primary objective for the day was to offer feedback to Team Ralliart New Zealand on its new Mirage Evo.
The car - which has Lancer EvolutionX running gear in a current model Mirage hatchback bodyshell - has run since late 2015 with Brian Green and Chris West behind the wheel.
Summerfield, 24, had tested the car for half a day following the Canterbury Rally last month and with co-driving sister Nicole made the trip north for the weekend to drive the car in competition for the first time.
He outpaced NZ Rally Championship rival Phil Campbell (Tauranga) to build a 19secs lead after two stages and came home 41.4secs clear after setting fastest times on five of the seven stages.
"I was surprised. Before the rally I'd given Phil a bit of stick and told him I'd be following his marks. But everything clicked right from start and I found the smoother I drove the car the better it went," said Summerfield.
At this stage the drive was a one-off and Summerfield will be back in his own Subaru Impreza for the final round of the NZ Rally Championship at Whitianga in August.
"I'd like to drive it (the Mirage) again but that's probably something to work to for next year."
The rally covered seven stages on forestry and closed public roads based at the TECT All Terrain Park.
"I thought it was very good rally and quite challenging for the new drivers. It was hard to read the road in some places," said Summerfield.
Campbell had been hoping to secure a hat-trick of wins on his home event but had to settle for second place in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9.
"We had a nice clean run. Matt drove really well today and we couldn't have done much more to match his speed," said Campbell.
Tauranga's Wayne Pittams (Subaru Impreza) drove back to third place after a time consuming spin in the second stage of the day while Tauranga's Richard Rau (Mazda 323 GTX) took fourth overall and also claimed the novice driver honours.
There was a hard charging effort from 17th seeded Scott Ogle (Northland) who drove his Toyota Starlet to fifth overall, clinching the 2WD honours by 25.7secs from the six-cylinder Toyota 86 of Brett Taylor (Cambridge).
The rally saw a higher attrition rate than in recent years with some short bursts of heavy rain making the roads slippery. There were 34 crews classified as finishers after 77.8km of competitive driving.
A short section of stage four claimed four cars from the top-10 positions. Subaru driver Hugh Spence (Gisborne) and early 2WD pace-setter Ian Wood (Rotorua) in his Toyota Corolla both got stuck off the road, while Subaru Impreza driver Chris Tregilgas (Rotorua) crashed out of third place and Brynley Smith (Auckland) rolled his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9.
Tauranga Clubmans and Novice Rally results:
1 Matt and Nicole Summerfield (Rangiora) Mitsubishi Mirage Evo, 46m 57.6s; 2 Phil Campbell/Mitch James (Tauranga) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9, 47m 39.0s; 3 Wayne Pittams/Megan Walker (Subaru Impreza WRX STI) 49m 36.8s; 4 Richard Rau/Kane Mallasch (Tauranga) Mazda 323 GTX, 50m 32.4s; 5 Scott Ogle/Dennis Pulman (Whangarei) Toyota Starlet, 51m 13.9s; 6 Brent Taylor/Chris Ramsay (Cambridge) Toyota FT86, 51m 39.6s; 7 Charlie Evans/Blair Tupp (Hamilton) Honda Integra, 52m 34.7s; 8 Michael McLean/Andrew Smith (Dargaville) 53m 28.1s; 9 Richard Harding/David McFarlane (Hibiscus Coast) Ford Escort, 53m 31.4s; 10 Jack and Jim Williamson (Hamilton) Suzuki Swift, 55m 19.0s.