Kerikeri’s Stephen Barker has come away from Rally of the North encouraged by his speed but ultimately disappointed after leaving the road and retiring on special stage five.

After a year driving a two-wheel drive Ford Fiesta in the New Zealand Rally Championship thanks to the Rally New Zealand Rising Stars scholarship, Barker stepped back into his Rintoul Civil/Baker Boys Nursery backed Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8 for his home rally.

Starting out driving at around 90% to bring the car home, Barker was third fastest on the opening stage and backed that up with a stage win on stage two, albeit sharing the win with fellow Kerikeri resident Kingsley Thompson to hold a comfortable second overall.

Barker was third again on stage three and took a strong stage win on stage four, despite a flat tyre late in the stage, so at the lunchtime service was a mere six seconds off the Thompson and the rally lead.

Stage five was one that changed the course of the rally and for Barker it was for the worse. A glitch in the safety notes saw the course safety ‘0’ car and the first five rally cars all come to grief on one corner but it was Barker that came out worst, rolling the car and nearly landing on top of rival Thompson.

Although he was able to drive the car out of the stage eventually, 45 minutes were lost and the decision was made to retire. A cruel twist of irony saw the special stage sponsored by Barker’s major sponsor, Rintoul Civil.

“I’m bitterly disappointed, but I guess it could have been a lot worse, we were lucky not to land on top of Kingsley,” said Barker. “But the pace in the morning was good. Moving back into the Evo has shown me just how much my season in the Fiesta improved my driving and I am confident we would have been able to hit the front had the battle continued.”

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