The second rally outing for Tauranga's Ben Thomasen in a Subaru Impreza has brought a podium finish in the annual Possum Bourne Memorial Rally.
Thomasen, who began his four wheel motorsport career after a serious motocross accident in late 2008, debuted the Subaru at the end of season Rally of the North last year with a controlled drive to seventh place.
On Saturday he opened his 2011 campaign with a last gasp second place in the eight-stage event behind Aucklander Kingsley Jones (Lancer Evo 8).
A close battle for the podium was decided in the final stage around two laps of the Hampton Downs race circuit where Thomasen and co-driver Rachel Pittams overhauled defending Top Half Series champion Lee Robson (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo4) to gain second place by just 0.5secs.
"I knew we were in third going into the last stage and I didn't think it was possible to get to second," said Thomasen.
"We went out and had some fun in the last stage and then just after the finish we got a phone call from Rachel's mum to say we we'd finished second by half a second."
Thomasen says the rally was the most difficult of the six he has contested since taking up the sport 12 months ago driving a Toyota Starlet.
"It was probably the hardest rally I've done so far. There was water all across the road in some places and the rain was really heavy at times. With roof vents you either open them up and the rain comes in or you close them and a car fogs up."
Water wasn't the only difficulty the Tauranga crew had to overcome.
"On the second stage we lost power and at the end of the stage the car caught on fire," said Thomasen.
That problem turned out be a blown exhaust gasket with the grease in the CV joint catching fire. After nursing the car through the third gravel stage and the first Hampton Downs super special stage Thomasen's service crew were able to make repairs during the lunch break.
"We went out in the afternoon I decided not to use the anti-lag and not rev it too hard so it wouldn't get too hot and catch fire again."
The result is a strong start to Thomasen's Top Half northern region rally series campaign with the next round being the Taranaki Tarmac Rally on June 25.
Also contesting the Possum Bourne Memorial Rally were Tauranga's Wayne Pittams (Subaru Impreza) and Andrew Shrimpton (Ford Escort).
Pittams was fifth quickest - just behind Thomasen - in the opening stage on Saturday morning but his rally ended in the next stage with a power steering problem which led to a fire under the bonnet. Shrimpton finished 15th overall and won class C (over 1850cc 2WD cars).
In the two-day national championship portion of the event Tauranga's Phil Campbell and Mal Peden (Ford Fiesta ST) experienced mixed fortunes. A broken axle in the first super special stage at Hampton Downs cost them time making repairs and then Campbell ran off the road on second stage on Sunday morning when a front hub failed.
"The car had felt funny a couple of corners back and when I went to turn left the car pulled hard right and we went off and got stuck," Campbell said.
"We got the car back on to the road and we were touring out when the whole hub collapsed.
"It was pretty disappointing as we'd been the fastest Fiesta on the last of the gravel stages on Saturday and we had good pace."
The next round of the NZ Rally Championship is the Wairarapa Rally on May 28-29.
Win for Stanaway
Young Tauranga racing driver Richie Stanaway was a winner at the famed Spa-Francorchamps grand prix circuit in Belgium last weekend.
Stanaway, 19, claimed his third win from four starts in the German Formula 3 Championship when he led home Danish driver Marco Sorensen in the second race of the weekend on Saturday.
The race weekend at the 7km Spa-Francorchamps circuit supported the second round of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup and on Friday Stanaway had qualified second in the 21-car field and then drove his Van Amersfoort Racing Dallara-VW to second place behind Sorensen. The Saturday portion of the programme saw Stanaway qualify third and earn the win in the 14-lap race by 2.5secs from Sorensen.
After two rounds of the German F3 Series Stanaway and Sorensen have built a commanding lead over the chasing pack. Stanaway leads the series with 40 points from Sorenson on 36 while Tom Blomqvist (GB) and Alon Day (Israel) are tied for third on 17 points.
The championship continues with round three at the Sachsenring near Leipzig this weekend.
Honda racer Michael Phillips (Mount Maunganui) gained his first MX1 podium finish at round four of the Australian Motocross Nationals on Sunday.
Phillips, who races for the Carlton Dry Honda Thor Racing squad, achieved two thirds, a fourth and a seventh in the four moto format to finish the Murray Bridge, South Australia round third overall behind Scotland's Billy McKenzie (Kawasaki) and series leader Dean Ferris (Kawasaki).
Phillips is now sixth in the championship standings which see Ferris with a nine-point lead over Kiwi Josh Coppins (Yamaha) who had two seconds, a fourth and a non-finish at Murray Bridge.
Ferris leads with 299 points from Coppins on 290 and McKenzie on 282. Phillips has 235 points.
After missing the previous round with injury Papamoa's Cody Cooper made his return to the Rock Star Motul Suzuki squad and achieved a seventh and 10th in the first double header followed by a 21st placing and a non-finish later in the day.
Cooper remains 13th in the championship which heads to Queensland for round five at Toowoomba on May 22.
Mount Maunganui Formula First racer Jason Carter teamed up with his father Ron and finished second among the dual driver teams at the annual Formula First Grand Prix on Saturday.
The one hour race at Manfeild is an end of season event for the Formula First class which completed the national series at Easter.
Te Puke's Michael Scott finished 10th in a race won by former Speedsport Scholarship driver and Toyota Racing Series front runner Nick Cassidy. The return of V8 Supercar racer Shane van Gisbergen to the class where he began his racing career was ended early by a fuel pump problem.
Local car club enthusiasts head for the hills this Sunday for one of the longest established events on the Motorsport BOP calendar.
The club's annual hillclimb challenge - which sees competitors competing for the Gregg Taylor Hillclimb Challenge Trophy - is decided by the fastest accumulated times over separate gravel and tarmac hillclimbs.
A new venue for the gravel portion of the event this year is a 2.5km stretch of MacDougall Quarry Rd near Pukehina this Sunday. The following Sunday (May 22) the action is at Te Puke Quarry Rd with a 1.9km tarmac hillclimb.
Waihi driver Gary Skinner (Subaru Impreza WRX) is the defending champion. Practice runs at both events begin at 10am with three official timed runs.