As Canterbury’s long hot summer continued into autumn 32 drivers turned out to the 2016 running of the Zig Zag Rd Hillclimb. With the temperature getting near 30 degrees and everyone keen to get their new season off to a strong start, there would be lots of hot battles within the field.
Zig Zag Road is a 2.5 km gravel course that twists up the foothills of the Southern Alps. The Autosport club has run the hill climb since the 1970’s and it continues to provide a good challenge to the drivers who take it on. Each driver would get three runs on the road.
The first run would be a bit of a sweeping job for the early runners. Relative new guy Job Quantock took advantage of a lower running order to head the times first up in his EVO7, while his father, Dave, came in second despite running early in their newly acquired EVO8. Sam Hurley did well to run third after run one, having been given the joker card to open the road in his EVO3. Matt Penrose was close behind along with Matt Wright and Trevor Crowe all in Impreza’s.
In the 2WD’s Wade Henshaw had his newly high powered RX7 setting the pace followed by Garry Cowan’s 1600cc AE86 and Ross Teesdale’s double boosted AE86. David Fahey was also right on the pace having installed a new Peter Kennard built 4AGE engine in his 1600cc mk1 Escort.
Run two would give a better idea of who was going to do the job. Matt Penrose jumped to the top in his Impreza, but Job Quantock was close behind. The surprise was third with Kennelly Cams Peter Kennard jumping to third in an EVO3. Kennard is the younger brother of the now famous Kiwi WRC navigator John Kennard and other than giving Derek Ayson’s Escort a shake down last year, has not competed on gravel in decades.
Henshaw stayed at the top of the 2WD’s, followed by Teesdale. Barry Varcoe jumped up to third of the Unlimited 2WD’s despite demolishing a fence post on the edge of the road on the way up the Hill. Varcoe was sharing his Group B replica Turbo Celica with Matt Summerfield for the day and clearly wanted to try to beat him. In the 1600’s Josh Mitchell jumped to the lead of the class in his 4AGE powered Starlet ahead of Fahey. Club President Graham Wilson held a clear lead in the 1300cc class after run two, using his Suzuki Twin Cam powered Starlet.
The third run at the road was the last chance for those hoping to improve their lot and there would be many changes in the final result. Zig Zag road rewards a tidy approach twisting its way up the hill, but there is a reasonable straight at the end with a moderate corner near the finish. Bravery in that corner can make another second or so, but if it goes wrong it’s the end of your car as David Fahey found out when he wrecked his MK1 Escort there two years ago.
Job Quantock did the best to win the 4WD class and the event for 2016, jumping back on top of Matt Penrose in the battle of the two relatively new drivers aged in their early 20’s. Peter Kennard is ‘a little’ older than that but would impress everyone with his third place in the EVO3 he has recently converted from a track car. Such was the tightness of the fight, Matt Wright, Trevor Crowe and Dave Quantock would take the next spots, all within one second of third place.
There was no stopping Wade Henshaw in the Unlimited 2WD class, he fair smoked his RX7 up the hill to finish ahead of a few of the 4WD’s and a clear first in class. Ross Teesdale was next in his AE86. Carl Balani took third in the Unlimited 2WD class in his RX7 turbo. Barry Varcoe was only hundredths of a second behind Balani for fourth and importantly a 10th of a second ahead of Matt Summerfield in the same car, even if it did cost Varcoe a front guard and a fence repair.
The 1600 class battle was also seriously hard fought. Dave Fahey admitted he again went flat around the last corner to win the class from Josh Mitchell. Now that’s brave considering he was in big trouble at home when he destroyed his car there last time, trying to go flat in the same corner. Both Fahey and Mitchell had beaten all but Henshaw and Teesdale in the Unlimited 2WD class in their 1600cc cars. Third of the 1600 class came from an excellent drive from a Rookie. Taylor Judd took his 4AGE powered Corolla to third in class in only his second outing on gravel. I guess it should not be a big surprise as he is the oldest son of Rally Stalwart Jeff Judd. Garry Cowan missed his last run but would finish fourth in class just a few hundredths behind Judd. John Weir took fifth of the 1600’s in his Honda Accord.
In the 1300’s Chris Herdman managed to wrestle the class win out of the hands of Graham Wilson in the last run, with Wilson finishing second just ahead of Rally veteran Grant Goile. Garry Mechen came home fourth of the 1300’s.
With class leads swapping hands each run and times needing to be checked down to the hundredth of a second, the 2016 running of the Rakaia Zig Zag provided a great spectacle. Drivers were aged from 16 year old Ari Pettigrew to Trevor Crowe who is many decades older than that, Trevor stating he first raced Zig Zag Road in 1973. It is great to see Trevor is still on the pace and that there are new guys joining the sport who can keep the competition alive for many decades to come.