Rallysprint pace-setter Graham Featherstone clinched his seventh consecutive northern series title by winning his home event on Sunday. The Thames Valley Car Club staged its Andy Lowe Memorial Rallysprint at the Piakonui Road venue near Matamata as the final round of the 2020 ABC Pipe Fitters Northern Rallysprint Series. It’s a challenging section of road with some narrow corner sequences packed into 7.8km. And in dry conditions the pace typically improves by about 2.5 seconds per kilometre as the gravel is swept from the surface. A field of 45 crews entered the rallysprint and it was former NZRC front-runner Todd Bawden (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6) who set the early pace, posting the quickest times in the first and second rounds.

Emma Gilmour gained plenty of confidence after taking second place in her Suzuki Swift AP4. Photo: Martin Smith

But it was a tight contest with a fast-five emerging that saw Bawden being pursued by Featherstone (Lancer Evo 7), Ben Thomasen (Subaru Impreza), Emma Gilmour (Suzuki Swift AP4) and Haydn Mackenzie (Lancer Evo 9). With two runs complete there was a mere 2.2secs separating the five drivers, but the fight became a four-way contest when Thomasen withdrew with overheating trouble. Featherstone made his move in round three, carving 8secs off the leading pace with a 6m 00.60s effort, while the trio of Mackenzie, Gilmour and Bawden remained separated by just over two seconds going into the final. If his rivals had been watching closely, they might have sniffed an opportunity in the final round. Featherstone was fortunate to very quickly restart his car when it stalled on the start line. But it made little difference and he delivered the only sub-6 minutes run of the day to stop the clocks in 5m 59.14s.

Jay Pittams pushes his replica 555 Impreza to the limit on Sunday. Photo: Martin Smith

Gilmour found more speed as well to clinch the runner-up honours at 6m 00.78s. The Dunedin driver had made the trip north as a shakedown for the upcoming Bay of Plenty and Auckland rallies, and she came away happy with the performance of the Swift and with some valuable public road mileage. Gravel rookie Mackenzie continued to impress and was part of the battle throughout the day in the Evo 9 previously campaigned by Brian Green, Phil Campbell and Raana Horan. Mackenzie’s final-round effort was 6m 02.05s to secure third overall, while Bawden clocked 6m 03.05s.

Steve Goodare in his 240RS powered Nissan Sunny. Photo: Martin Smith

The event produced some close class battles and none was closer than the 1301-1600cc class where teenager Lukas Ramsay (Mitsubishi Mirage) pipped Lyndsay Holmes (Starlet) by just one-hundredth of a second. In the 1601-2000cc class Grant Liston (Honda Integra Type-R) posted the fastest time of the day, but a slow third round removed him from the elimination format and Anthony Te Rito (Honda Civic) took the class win ahead of Jordan Grant in his 1.8-litre Suzuki Swift. The over-2000cc class was also a remarkably close final round with Mazda RX-7 pilot Charlie Evans just 0.02secs quicker than Steve Goodare in his 240RS powered Nissan Sunny. Jay Pittams (Subaru Impreza) had a clear performance advantage over his rivals in Glass G (Pre-96 4WD), while the Historic 2WD class win went to the Mk1 Escort RS1600 driven by David Wright. Top-10 Fastest Times: 1. Graham Featherstone (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7) 5m 59.14s; 2. Emma Gilmour (Suzuki Swift AP4) 6m 00.78s; 3. Haydn Mackenzie (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) 6m 02.05s; 4. Todd Bawden (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6) 6m 03.05s; 5. Ben Thomasen (Subaru Impreza) 6m 09.45s; 6. Phil Broadbent (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8) 6m 11.31s; 7. Dave Strong (Ford Fiesta S2000) 6m 15.14s; 8. Jay Pittams (Subaru Impreza) 6m 20.47s; 9. Grant Liston (Honda Integra Type-R) 6m 23.55s; 10. Steve Goodare (Nissan Sunny RS) 6m 23.70s.

Antony Te Rito won his class in his Honda Civic. Photo: Colin Smith

Charlie Evans won the over 2000cc class in his Mazda RX7. Photo: Colin Smith

Dave Strong had his Ford Fiesta S2000 singing, taking the 7th fastest time. Photo: Colin Smith

Ben Thomasen set the fifth fastest stage time in his Subaru. Photo: Martin Smith

Todd Bawden set the early pace in his Lancer Evo 6. Photo: Martin Smith

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