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Hamilton’s Stephen Barker has shown all his potential, claiming a career-best third place on last weekend's Possum Bourne Memorial Rally.

Despite living in Hamilton, Barker had never driven on any of the stages before Friday’s reconnaissance, but was still picked by many as one to watch.

The opening stage turned out to be the worst of the day for Barker when he piloted the Rintoul Civil Evo to tenth place, but by the time the crews were the through the second special stage, the infamous Whaanga Coast, Barker had pushed his way up to fourth, ahead of many more fancied driver/car combinations, including national champions Chris West and Hayden Paddon.

A charge through the 43.98 kilometre Waitomo 1 stage was halted with a puncture towards the end. The team were able to drive out of the stage without changing the tyre and still recorded second fastest stage time.

“It was a shame we had the puncture - without it we would have been a good chance of winning the stage.” Barker said.

By the time Barker and co-driver Brett Lightfoot returned to the Raglan Service Park, they had moved into a podium position and were less than five seconds away from second placed Andrew Hawkeswood, although also under attack from fourth placed Kingsley Thompson.

In the following stage, Hawkeswood used the extra power of the Group A car to move away from the Group N cars of Barker and Thompson, but Neil Marshall joined the battle. When Thompson retired with engine failure, the battle was on between Marshall and Barker for the final podium spot. Heading into the final stage, a repeat of the long Waitomo stage, the gap was only 6.5 seconds.

Barker didn’t hold back and pulled almost 21 seconds from his rival, taking a well deserved third place, a result that many found impossible to ignore.

“We are absolutely rapt with the result. It was great to finally prove the speed we have,” said the 20 year old.

The team will now be hoping to carry that speed into the final round of the New Zealand Rally Championship, Rally Nelson, on September 19 and 20, where a good result should see the team wrap up second in the open class championship.

Pic: Lance Hastie

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