The Autosport Club provided a never before raced bit of road in Mt Thomas Forest for the last round of their 2015 Gravel Sprint Series. The 4km sprint delivered a constantly winding road that climbed and fell through the ‘mountain’, adding variety to the sprint series which had used some faster public roads in earlier rounds. This road had just two real straights, one of which went steep downhill and ended with a tight turn with unforgiving drops both sides. There would be some new names appear high in the results.
Matt Summerfield was among the drivers taking part, he was share driving Dave Clearwater’s Evo 4 with Dave, the intention being to help find set up improvements. He was doing the same for Jared Christofferson with his 4AGE powered Starlet. Driving twice and sitting in the passenger seat with both would give Summerfield plenty of looks at the road, but considering his Grandfather is the farmer there, unlike the rest of the field, he knew his way around already.
Mike Tall, Clearwater and Gary Hawkes were up for the fight with Summerfield in their EVO’s, while Robert McCallum was keen to cement the series win in the open 2WD class. Wade Henshaw was there in his RX7 with the new 13B Rotary he is developing which includes Henshaw’s own billet end housings and is claimed to produce 380 hp.
But it wasn’t a day for horsepower in 2WD. The twisting low speed nature of the road meant power could not be used and the tables were turned somewhat by the hard chargers who have suffered from a lack of power in earlier events.
Mike Tall would again take the win, he has been quite dominant this season in his very fast Evo4, and he certainly knows how to pedal it. His total time 2mins 54.02 being half a second ahead of Summerfield who placed second in Clearwater’s Evo4 and was the only other driver to go sub three minutes on the constantly twisting course.. Clearwater was next in third and Hawkes fourth. Consistency gave Hawkes the win in the Sprint Series for the second year running, Tall being ineligible as he races for another club. Rob McCallum won the open 2WD class in his Duratec powered Mk2 Escort and took the sprint series class win with it.
Josh Mitchell was just one second behind McCallum outright, in his 1600 cc 4AGE Starlet. It was a great result for Mitchell that surprised many and impressed everyone. He may be Trevor Crowe’s apprentice, but Mitchell has proved he is well on top of the game on gravel. He was the clear winner of the 1600cc Class, but he would not be the only star on the day.
An almost incredible result came from a 16 year old rookie. Ari Pettigrew was given the first name of his father’s hero and had used an early 90’s BMW 318 at a few autocrosses, skidding around paddocks while he waited to be old enough to get a driver’s license. His first ever run on gravel in the car embarrassed a few of the regulars. The 318 seems an unlikely weapon, but they are popular on gravel at club level in Europe. Ari has proved we have been missing a trick Downunder, as he took second in the open class at Mt Thomas. The old hands were shocked and mightily impressed, the 16 year old school boy has them worried – they know he will just get quicker. It’s a bit early to predict another WRC contender in Ari, but he certainly deserves some backing to explore his potential.
Carl Balani had a strong day out in his RX7 Turbo taking third in the open 2WD Class, just ahead of Phil Walker who has now got up to speed in his classic RX7, having re-joined the sport this year after a long break. Henshaw was next and admitted to being a bit off the pace with one eye on the oil pressure gauge of the development engine, which ran fine all day.
Matt Summerfield took second in the 1600 class behind Mitchell, with Nigel Tyson third in his DX Corolla. Dean Pester won the Sprint Series for the 1600’s with consistent results in the classic Pushrod powered Mk1 Escort. The car which was rallied by Jeff Judd in the early 1980’s doesn’t have the power of its more modern rivals, but Pester gets the most out of it.
Chris Herdman won the 1300 cc Class at the event and with it the Sprint Series for the class. Herdman has become the man to beat locally in the 1300 class this year. Justin Harward took second of the 1300’s on the day.
The club again provided an electronic split time, this time a measured 1km from the start. Tall and Summerfield were the only drivers to go sub minute at the split in the first run, with 57 and 58 seconds. By Run two, McCallum, Hawkes and Clearwater had joined that club. By the end of Run four Tall was down to 52 seconds, all the 4WD’s were under a minute, joined by the 2WD’s of McCallum and the 1600 car of Mitchell.
Club motorsport is in strong health in Canterbury. More than 70 drivers took part in the Autosport Club’s 2015 Sprint Series, the club having delivered a variety of interesting roads to compete on. It will happen all over again in 2016, but it may be that 2015 is remembered as the first time we heard of the new Ari.