Fights and flights at Royce Watson Memorial Rally

| Photographer Credit: Terry Marshall

There were lots of competitive fights going on throughout the field at the 2015 Royce Watson Memorial Hanmer Rally on Saturday 4th September. Royce was a friend of very many of the motorsport community in New Zealand and especially in the South Island, making the trophy in his memory a highly valued prize.

The Rally attracted the star entry of Bathurst legend Greg Murphy He did good too – more on that later.

The Autosport Club provided nine stages with a total distance of around 64 km’s. With exception of the ‘marathon’ 16.27 km final stage nine, they would all be short sprints. The first four stages were each run twice, with stage nine being an extended version of stage one and five. The Rally provided a relaxed pace, with plenty of time at the lunchtime service and easy spectating. Royce’s event was a social event enjoyed by a big crowd of old and new Rally faces and was a fitting tribute to our mate Royce.

Matt Summerfield would start at number one in his bid to retain the Royce Watson Trophy he won last year. He would face opposition from Richard Bateman in a recently purchased ex Regan Ross Evo9, along with David Clearwater in his Evo5. Tony Gosling was hoping to be on the pace in his WRX, Garry Hawkes also hoped to be on the pace in his Evo9 and Jason Clarke was in with a chance in his Evo5. No-one was ruling out Deane Buist either, he would start Car 4 in his Duratec powered MK2 Escort, with Rob McCallum right behind in his very similar car.

The roads were in great condition. Recent rain had cleared off and sunshine made the surface dry on top. In most place the roads were lightly gravelled, smooth and with good grip – pretty much ideal. The met office was predicting snow down to 300 metres which is pretty much ground level at Hanmer and the Rally would reach 700 metres above sea level at times, but the snow stayed away and a pleasant day was provided.

Stage One’s 4.7 km’s were covered by Summerfield in 2 minutes and 54 seconds with Deane Buist next 7.8 seconds back and Bateman 0.4 seconds back from Buist. Summerfield also won the 7 km stage two by 13 ½ seconds from Bateman who took second place from Buist by 3 seconds. The longer 9.2 km stage three was covered by Summerfield in 5 minutes 35 seconds while Bateman came to a halt with a suspected crank sensor failure and would be out for the day.

At the lunch break following stage four, things were already starting to look a bit settled. Summerfield was winning all the stages, Buist was protecting second, but there was a fight going on behind. Clearwater was third and took time out of Deane in stage four, which at under 3km’s contained many of the steepest bits.

McCallum had not been able to keep up with Deane Buist, but held a still impressive fourth outright Oldest Buist brother, Glenn had third 2WD and 7th outright in his MK2 BDA. Relative new guy Keith Anderson was a pleasing 5th in his Evo3 at the lunch break, followed by Hawkes in his Evo 9. William Hawes showed he is getting to grips with the Rally game by holding 8th in his lightly developed GT4 Celica, while ex Stock Car man Jason McConnell had avoided over cooking things to place ninth so far in his WRX. Job Quantock rounded out the top 10 at lunch, driving an EVO7 in one of his first events ever.

Over the next four stages (5-8) Summerfield kept winning. Clearwater took some time back from Deane Buist and was only 11 seconds back going into stage 9. Job Quantock had picked up pace and was battling with Hawkes, Anderson and Hawes for fifth, all of who were now putting pressure on the fourth place of McCallum.
Stage nine contained a concrete bottom Ford which had just 3-4 centimetres of water crossing it. The spot is famous as the fast approach and quick climb out of the river creates low flying Rally Cars. The organisers had arranged to convoy spectators into the mid stage action spot. This was much appreciated by the 50 or so car loads of fans that watched car after car fly by. The organisers had cautioned the spot, but spectators at the river had phoned into the service park to let the drivers know the Ford was smooth and everybody ignored the caution.

It was a test of shock absorbers as cars hit the Ford, some doing 180km/h or more and flying 20 – 30 metres while going a metre off the ground. Summerfield was first, his car flying nicely at very high speed. Glenn Buist was pulling max revs in 6th in his BDA when he took to the air and was among the stars of the show. Murph got one of the biggest cheers for his fully committed flight time.

For others, the ones with the dud shocks, their flights would be a scary experience. Many would bounce high in the back end and land heavily on their nose, making the slight left hander that followed more of drama than it should be. Unfortunately for Williams Hawes his shocks seriously failed and his fine drive in the top 10 came to an end. His car broke and locked up after its multi bouncing landing.

Matt Summerfield won the 2015 Water View Cars Royce Watson Memorial Hanmer Rally, having lead from start to finish and winning every stage. Deane Buist kept second with David Clearwater third in the final result. McCallum held fourth, while new guys Keith Anderson and Job Quantock took fifth and sixth which was a great day out for the young blokes. Veteran campaigner Garry Hawkes took 7th, while Glenn Buist was pleased that after over 10 years without driving a Rally, he took 8th outright and third of the 2WD’s.

A family battle has been fought behind Glenn Buist, with Roger Townsend prevailing over son Mike. Roger took his Mk2 BDA to 9th overall and fourth of the 2WD’s. Mike won the 1600 class in his Toyota AE86 and finished 10th outright behind Roger. Steve Cattermole took his ex Royce Watson Datsun 1200 coupe to second in the 1600 class. With the car true to Royce’s signage and colour scheme it was driven with similar enthusiasm and was another tribute to Royce. Chris Lancaster took third of the 1600’s in his Suzuki Swift.

The 1300 cc class battle had run hot all day. Young but experienced campaigner Chris Herdman would spend the day battling with veteran campaigner Graham Wilson. Both would be kept honest by new guy Chris McLean who was starting his second ever Rally. Herdman held the advantage most of the day in his Toyota powered Starlet, while Wilson used his Suzuki powered Starlet to chase Herdman and fend off McLean’s DX Corolla. Going into the last stage only a handful of seconds separated the three. All would appear into view approaching the Ford fully sideways at high speed exiting the preceding corner. Flat out through the Ford was the order of the day, all three flying high. Places stayed the same, Herdman winning the class ahead of Wilson then McLean. McLean can be very happy to have been so close to these experienced guys and not have made any rookie errors.

What about Murph? Clearly the man is a driving legend, but what is also clear to the Rally crowd is that experience is vital, so the Kiwi legend had to be like a fish out of water for a while. To have taken on the Lone Star Canterbury Rally in the dark as a rookie had been a bit ambitious, even for Murph. This event was far more suited to a rookie, with very short stages and a leisurely touring and servicing pace. It is a blind rally (i.e. no pace notes) but using the same roads twice would allow a rookie to build confidence on the repeat run.

Murph can be proud of himself, ex NZRC front runner Mark Leonard sat beside him and they made good pace as the day went on. Watching at an intersection a kilometre or so from the start of stage one, Murph took a wisely cautious approach. Seeing him return to the corner as stage 5, he was breaking deep and setting up sideways into the corner like a pro – and getting a clean exit. Well done Murph – how long will it be until there is a BDA in your garage?

There were two other noteworthy stories from Royce’s Rally. The first was the Cliff Girls. Daughters of Rally Veteran Garry Cliff, both have been around the Rally scene since they were kids. The older of the sisters, Sam would start her first rally as a driver and with little sis Annie navigating. The girls did well. Starting last, they were by no means running last when the brakes failed on their Corolla ending stage 8. They got it stopped without crashing but could not start stage nine – a good day out anyway.

The final story concerns Mike Nokes, boss of Water View Cars the event sponsor. Nokes had done 2-3 events before Hanmer with not much success. A bunch of his so called mates arranged a sweepstake. Entry of one dozen beer allowed you to name the stage that Nokes would crash out of the Rally. With nine stages, there were 9 dozen for the winner. Mike Nokes had the last laugh getting cleanly through the event and finishing 5th in the 1600 cc Class in his AE92 Corolla. I hope they gave him the beer.

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