The 2010 Rally Of Otago has been run and won, but the PowerPlay Escort of Mike Conway and Jenny Cole had a bad event and ended both days with a DNF.

Day 1 started wel. On SS., Ridge Road 22.10km, a fast flowing road with a lot of loose gravel and some deep ruts courtesy of the NZ National Championship 4WDs. Mike and Jenny had a safe run through with a 4th place outright in the Classic category, the first three places all going to Mk2 Escorts, two with Cosworth BDG power plants and the other being last year’s winner Derek Ayson running an FJ20 Nissan engine.

The early good form carried through on SS2, Tokarahi 27.30km, another fast flowing loose surfaced stage. A solid 7th place in Classic after a good run for most of the stage, but having to deal with dust from the cars in front towards the end.

SS3, Danseys Pass, a 29.10km run up and over the pass was not to be so good. After catching the car in front approx 5km into the stage, the pair struggled on in dusty conditions for approximately another 15km, unable to get close enough to pass.

A minor overshoot in thick dust on a “4 left” downhill saw the car plunge over a steep embankment and career downhill, coming to rest in a deep gully. Amazingly the car appeared to have very little damage and both of the crew were unhurt.

Unfortunately another crew in the Classic category did a similar thing, but rolled heavily several times, landing on the back of the Escort before completely clearing it and landing some 10 feet away in front of it. Both the crew in that car were shaken but also unhurt.

Once the stage had been cleared the recovery crews came to the rescue and between three 4WDs, and all their winches, they were able to drag the Escort back up the hill without any further damage, a fantastic effort on their behalf and very much appreciated.

After a quick inspection of the car to check for any front end damage the crew drove back to the service point at Palmerstone, the assisting NZ service crew flew into action and beat the car back into shape. At this point four stages had been missed so it was decided to have a run in the super special tarmac stage back in Dunedin at the end of the day.

The effort by the service crew to repair the car was duly rewarded with Mike and Jenny placing 8th in the Classics, a good result considering the damage to the car.

Further repairs were made to the car later in the evening, a fantastic effort by all the assisting NZ crew. Mike and Jenny would wholeheartedly like to thank Tony, Lee, James, Jase, Garry, Neville and all the rest of the crew for their fantastic work and hospitality.

Unfortunately, having missed several stages the crew were no longer in the running, but were free to rejoin the event for Sunday’s leg, a re-seeding overnight saw the car start  in sixth place on the road.

Day 2 started with stage 9, Whare Flat, tight twisty tracks through a pine forest which then opened out for a fast run through the 12.86km. A soft front tyre on the PowerPlay Escort and a nervous start to the day due to the previous day’s off road excursion saw Mike and Jenny finish in 11th place.

Stage 10, the legendary Kuri Bush, 15.11km, is a roller coaster of a road with many crests to keep crews on their toes. Another steady run saw Mike and Jenny scrape back inside the top 10  with a 9th in Classics. Both enjoyed the stage and were now looking forward to the rest of the day’s stages.

Stage 11, Waipori Gorge, a 12.99km narrow twisty stage running uphill most of the way, damp road conditions for the first time in the event were welcomed by most crews. Another reasonable run until an overshoot and stall at a turn left onto a bridge saw the Escort drop about 10 seconds and finish in 14th place.

Stage 12, Bald Hill 1, 10.61km, was a very fast run across wide open spaces, then plunging down a narrow track with steep drops to one side. It was on the last corner of this stage, after a cautious run down the mountain, that the rally ended for Mike and Jenny.

A tight 2 right caught them out. The right front wheel just hooked a small bank on the inside of the corner and the car went over on the left side, then onto the roof and finally coming to rest on the driver’s side. A very slow roll on a first gear corner. Once back on its wheels the car was driven back to the next service area and it was decided at this point to retire from the event.

An unfortunate end to a great event with the team not having any luck over the weekend. The historic spec car performed well early on and the team were surprised to be in 5th place prior to the first day’s problems. There is already talk about returning to NZ for next year. Unseen stages and another chance to drive on pace notes on some of the best roads in the southern hemisphere may prove too hard to resist.

The damage to the car will be further assessed when the container arrives back in Melbourne at the end of April. Plans to contest this year’s Victorian Rally Championship have now been put on hold.  

Thanks must also go to Russell Stuckey of Stuckey’s Tyres in Melbourne for his assistance and the Dunlop tyres, which performed fantastically well on the very loose gravel of the early stages.

Mike and Jenny would again like to thank Tony and Heather and all the rest of the crew for their fantastic hospitality. The problems of the event were overshadowed by the enthusiasm and generosity of the entire NZ crew.

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