It was not quite the weekend Rotorua's Sloan Cox hoped for at the Ashley Forest Rallysprint, having been unable to progress past the top 32 competitors, but his record of 54.96s on the 1.7km course could not be beaten by this year's winner Alister McRae.
The event, held in the Ashley Forest near Rangiora in North Canterbury, is run by the Ratec Motorsport Club and attracted Kiwi WRC driver Hayden Paddon and Scottish rally star McRae to take on Cox as the defending champion.
"It's never the same, each time we've been here," Cox said.
"On Saturday we struggled with little problems and there were delays getting the full field of 60 competitors through the first three of four scheduled qualifying runs.
"The top few only got two runs on Saturday, so that was a bit frustrating. Added to that, our first run, we hadn't sealed the car the way we normally do so it filled with dust, and I hit the kill switch accidentally so that was pretty much a write-off. Then we had misfiring issues with the spark plugs. We solved that problem and were ready for the next run, which didn't happen."
Cox was back on the pace with the delayed third qualifying run, which took place on Sunday morning, with a time of 57.42s.
"The car was really good and it felt good to finally be in that time bracket. I knew there was more time in the car. We elected to use the same tyres for the fourth qualifying run, where we set a 56.02s and we knew what we could do to improve.
"Then came the top 32 shoot-out, and our day just turned around for us. From the start line our hydraulic centre diff pump blew, so no 4WD, mostly front-wheel-drive. Close on a corner, the car hit a couple of ruts. It was a good line but, not having 4WD, I couldn't stop the car turning around. Then it stalled before I could turn it around and keep going.
"In the end I couldn't make up the time and therefore didn't make it into the top 16, which was disappointing. So, a frustrating weekend. Congratulations to Alister on his win, but I have to say it's nice to still have the course record."
Depending on his 2019 plans, Cox was already keen to enter Ashley Forest again next year.
"I want to keep trying to lower that record — we know there's a lot more in the car, but it comes down to weather and road conditions too."
He was considering the idea of entering two cars next year.
"Maybe a front-wheel-drive might be on the cards. We could enter two classes, get more seat time on the hill, and knowing more about FWD now it would be cool to go for the 2WD record as well."
His next event is the final RX Academy round on October 7 at Tierps in Sweden, which will mark the last event of his debut season of international competition.