Dusty South Canterbury roads provided the stage for mixed fortunes among the four Tauranga crews contesting Saturday's fourth round of the New Zealand Rally Championship.
For the two competitors racing for top-10 spots in the 78-car field it was a rally offering no reward as Phil Campbell retired his Ford Fiesta AP4 with gearbox issues and Ben Thomasen (Subaru Impreza) was forced out with radiator damage.
Campbell and co-driver Mal Peden (Mount Maunganui) started the Timaru-based event holding third place in the national championship. They were hampered by an electrical glitch in the opening stage but had moved up to eighth place before they were forced to retire early in the afternoon with concerns about the Fiesta's gearbox.
"At the first service the gearbox had a small oil leak. We topped it up but a few stages later I got a temperature alarm and we decided to stop rather than risk breaking it," Campbell said.
"It was frustrating day but we had good pace on a few stages."
Thomasen and co-driver Gavin Haycock were up to seventh place in the early part of the rally and were leading the Gull Rally Challenge category after six stages. A brief stage seven off-road excursion while driving in thick dust resulted in the oil cooler being pushed back into the radiator.
"The car is fine apart from the bumper and radiator. We'll regroup and try again at Coromandel [the next championship event in August]," Thomasen said.
Thomasen sits fourth in a close fight for the Gull Rally challenge honours with two rounds remaining.
There were much better fortunes for the local drivers of two-wheel-drive cars.
In spite of some gearshift issues Tauranga's Wayne Pittams and co-driver Chris Davison (Auckland) showed good pace in their Ford Escort on the fast South Canterbury roads.
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The powerful 2.5-litre Escort was regularly among the fastest cars on the open sections of road and Pittams finished a season-best 14th overall, also claiming third placing in the Open 2WD class behind South Islanders Marcus Van Klink (Mazda RX-8) and Regan Ross (Ford Escort RS1800).
Tauranga's Andy Martin and co-driver Matt Hayward (Mazda RX3) also had a strong run winning the Gull Rally Challenge 2WD class for the second time this season while climbing from 45th seeding to a 24th place finish.
In the Timaru-based event Hayden Paddon scored a convincing win by nearly seven minutes in his Hyundai i20 AP4 but the international star hasn't registered for the national series.
Aucklander Ben Hunt (Subaru) finished second to claim maximum points in the championship and extend his commanding lead in the series. Hunt leads Holden Barina driver Josh Marston (Christchurch) — who finished third behind Paddon and Hunt – by 46 points going into the penultimate round based at Whitianga on August 17.