Auckland driver Hayden McKenzie breathed a huge sigh of relief as he exited his car after winning Targa Hawke's Bay at the weekend.
"That's our redemption mission complete," McKenzie said.
He was referring to a major accident on a special stage during last year's main Targa New Zealand Rally which saw his navigator Matt Sayers hospitalised and their 2013 Mitsubishi Evo severely damaged. Despite the accident McKenzie's crew managed to keep his car going and got him back in the rally.
"We were leading the event when that happened so it was good to win this one on the overall rankings after winning class four here in the Bay in a different car last year," McKenzie explained.
McKenzie, 35, and Sayers, 30, finished the 20 special stages in the three-day event which started in Rotorua on Friday and finished in Havelock North with a time of 3hrs03m29.1s. Second place went to another Auckland pair, David Rogers and navigator Aiden Kelly, in another Mitsubishi Evo X RS with a time of 3hrs04m24.4s.
Steven and Carl Kirk-Burnnand completed the Auckland trifecta with a time of 3hrs06m07.3s in their BMW E38 318i.
These three crews were among 49 in the competitive section of the rally and another 29 crews tackled the touring section.
"Now we've got the Hawke's Bay title we want to win the main Targa New Zealand title in October. We've got a few modifications to make before then so our production car can become eligible for the All Comers category," McKenzie said.
"That's my third Targa and I've got the bug for it now. We will be back in the Bay with the aim of going back-to-back next year."
While some seasoned Targa campaigners expressed astonishment at McKenzie's success he was quick to point out his circuit racing background, he raced in the New Zealand V8 Championships for a several years before finishing in 2011, has proved beneficial.
It's obvious the bloke who cops a bit of flak because he runs a Toyota car dealership but races a Mitsubishi will be a force in whatever rally event he enters. Although Targa Hawke's Bay's media personality Paul Shanahan was quick to point out McKenzie was fortunate two of the favourites for the weekend's title, Cantabrian Rory Callaway and Aucklander Leigh Hopper, who ended up on his roof on the final stage, were among the non-finishers.
Three Hawke's Bay crews were in the competitive section. The father-and-son pair of Terry and Frank May finished second in category five and sixth in the production two wheel drive section in their 2002 BMW 330ci.
"We were very tentative on the first day, slightly less tentative on the second and had a good run on the third. We took Middle Road fairly gently this time and were happy to finish," Terry May said.
They didn't want to repeat the crash they had 4km from home on Middle Road last year. Maraekakaho dairy farmer Ivan Knauf and Tutira farmer Trevor Corbin were fifth in the production four wheel drive section in a 2008 Subaru Impreza.
The Bay's hubby and wife combo of Stuart and Jane Richmond, who were making their Targa Hawke's Bay debut in a 1972 Ford Escort, blew their engine on the third stage.
"Despite this harsh welcome they loved it and will be back for more next year," Terry May said.
Five Hawke's Bay crews tackled the touring section. There was plenty of interest in the Murray family battle.
Retired Hastings GP Rhod Murray, 72, was one of the oldest competitors in the touring section and raced a 2001 Audi S3 with his son Alisdair. Rhod's daughter Cara, and son-in-law Steven Croad raced a 2016 Ford Focus RS.
"It was a dead heat and both crews will be back next year to break the deadlock. Steven had the better of day one and Alisdair had the better of day three before we crossed the finish line together on the final day," Rhod recalled.
"I'm looking forward to next year when they have a fossil category where the combined age of the driver and navigator plus the age of the car must be at least 150," he added.
Shanahan was impressed with how the Hawke's Bay public supported the event and he said officials are happy to continue running it.