Familiar line-up to contest Catlins

By Catherine Pattison on Sat, 29 Jul 2017 | Motorsport | Rally
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Gore’s Derek Ayson has had plenty of success in his Ford Escort Mk2 FJ over the years, including winning the Silver Fern Rally in it last year. PHOTO: PROSHOTZ

The Catlins Coast Rally's first entry cut-off closed this week, and among the 50-something teams on the list are three familiar names - Gore pair Andrew Graves and Derek Ayson and Christchurch's Deane Buist - who will be fighting it out for the top positions.

Graves, in his faithful 4WD Mitsubishi Evo 3, is always one to be wary of, as the age of his 20-year-old car belies the speed at which he drives it.
Fresh from victory at the recent Circle Hill Rallysprint, Graves is teaming up with longterm co-driver Jared Leebody and the pair are hoping the weather is kinder to them than it was at last year's event.

Graves said it was ‘‘one of the most challenging'' rallies he had competed in, with ice and snow turning the course into a driver's nightmare on the opening stages.

A three-time winner of the event, Graves said there was no out-of-the-ordinary preparation before the rally.

‘‘I pretty much put some fuel in the car and put some new tyres on it,'' he said.

He also heads to the August 12 event with no expectations of final results.

‘‘I go there and drive as fast as I can and see what happens at the end.''

Ayson used to have Graves in his passenger seat and they made a victorious pairing in his former Mitsubishi Evo 4 in the Rally Xtreme and Mainland Rally Series. These days Ayson enjoys getting a little more sideways in his 2WD Ford Escort Mk2 FJ and he has just had the engine rebuilt after it blew up at the Rally of Otago in April.

This car has won three Otago Classic Rally titles and last year achieved a bucket-list highlight when Ayson won the multiday Silver Fern Rally.

His attendance record at the Catlins Rally is 100% and he has only failed to finish on one occasion. Although Ayson has won both the Catlins and Gore rallys in his Mitsubishi, the highest the Escort has finished is third.

‘‘I'm quite happy in the old girl,'' Ayson said, with a laugh.

Buist is also in the 2WD camp and he has a lot in common with Graves, as far as driving in an older car.

Buist, who has been rallying for 30 years and has competed in more than 200 rallys, has won a host of competitions over his career, including national championship classes in 1991, 1994 and 1997, plus the New Zealand Club 2WD championship in 2001 and 2002 and the New Zealand Kiwi Two Class in 2003.

He is leading the Mainland Rally Championship going into this event, the fifth of seven, after a second place at the recent Nelson Rally, driving a Ford Escort owned by Stadium Motorsport. He was undecided whether he will enter this car or his own Escort Mk2.

He is, however, certain about which driver he will be targeting.

‘‘I was second in 2015 behind Dean Bond, but more importantly in front of Derek Ayson, he's the Catlins' master.

‘‘Any day you can beat Derek at his home event, fair and square, is a good day out.''

Rally secretary Roger Laird said entries were down on the ‘‘bumper'' list last year, which saw 90 teams compete.

Although entries officially closed this week, Laird said the committee was still encouraging people to enter if they had a ‘‘last-minute desire to do this rally''.  

The recent heavy rain had not seriously affected the six stages, comprised of about 150 competitive kilometres, Laird said.
‘‘We've got a couple of wee things to take care of. The worst of it missed the area that we use.''

The event is based in Owaka this year, with servicing of the rally cars taking place in the township between stages. The rally is scheduled to depart Owaka Motors in Campbell St at 10am and finishes in Owaka about 3.45pm.