Christchurch’s Josh Marston and co-driver Andrew Graves, from Gore, have taken their first ever rally victory at New Zealand Rally Championship level in the mud-slicked Rally Canterbury on Sunday, June 3.
It was also the first rally win for the Penny Homes Holden Rally Team running two Holden Barina AP4+ cars which Marston formed with Greg Murphy in 2017.
The Holden win* marked the first time in 31 years that a car marketed under the GM brand won an NZRC round – also Christchurch – when Lloyd Owen and Carl Rabbidge won an Opel Mantra. It’s also the first time a Holden has ever won an NZRC round since the NZRC commenced in 1977.
Havelock North-based Murphy and co-driver Mark Leonard, from Timaru, finished the challenging one-day event in fourth for Murphy’s best-ever rally result.
Marston is understandably rapt with his result, which was described by commentators as stunning – but it wasn’t an easy win for the 32-year-old.
“We had a very good run on the first stage,” said Marston who was seeded fifth in the #5 Barina AP4+.
“I was just trying to set what I thought was a reasonably aggressive pace and it worked out well. Stage two, coming into a junction, we lost the rear and the car spun on the inside of the corner. A rock there bent the steering arm and punctured a tyre. We managed to get going and just toured out to service where our RDL guys did a fantastic job fixing it.”
Marston won all four of the next stages, and was second quickest on the next two tests despite another puncture and another bent steering arm which his crew fixed again. The final two tests ran after 5pm in the dark.
Josh Marston took his, and the Holden Rally Team's, first NZRC victory. Photos: Euan Cameron
“Those last two night stages went great, really good. We got to the end of stage 10, but didn’t know the results because we had no mobile phone coverage. I said to Andrew, are we still on the podium? He said stop your whinging, we’ve just won the rally! We went mental in the car for about 30 seconds after that!”
Marston makes special mention of his crew from RDL Performance in Christchurch. “This one really is for them. They’ve worked such long hours, especially Tony, to get our car to this point. Remember we only started competing with two brand new cars at the beginning of last season.
“The conditions were really slippery, great roads but with so much rain, the base was soft and slippery. The MRF tyres did a great job all day and it’s enormous for the team to have a rally win. Another special thanks to Andrew Graves alongside me who did great job today. We wrote our own notes for this rally and it went awesome. And well done to Murph and Mark, coming home in a very strong fourth place.”
Murphy was also pleased to have a strong result, especially in an event which was challenging for all competitors.
“It is a really tough rally, with some parts quite cut up. I had half a dozen moments at least, sliding off the road and having to recover, hit a couple of banks, and at one point I couldn’t pull it up coming down a hill and ended up in a hedge. But there were also some really enjoyable, consistent stages, particularly out the back in the Okuku Forest where you knew what you had in the way of grip. The second time through, our times were very competitive to that was very rewarding.”
Murphy was also appreciative of the Timaru-based crew he had working on his Barina AP4+ over the last few weeks.
“Big thanks to Ronny, Harry, Nigel and Lenny, and Chris who helped today, the guys did a great job and the car was really good, reliable and hopefully now more consistent going forward.”
For Murphy, with this being only his second season in the top NZRC tier, rallying is still very much a learning process. “I was able to understand more about how you need to drive them, the grip they do have and how to utilise it. The way Lenny (Mark Leonard) and I are doing our notes vs corners are improving. Going over stages a second time, I was able to push harder and made some good gains.”
Driving the #51 Barina and seeded seventh on the road, Murphy ran in a consistent third-fastest overall initially before taking the overall rally lead after stage four as other front-runners faced their own challenges. He consolidated his position with a well-deserved fourth place.
“The rally was very competitive throughout the day, everyone battling and trading times, it was great to be part of it. The MRF tyres were awesome, the speed that Josh had on nearly all stages, from being two minutes down to charge through and win, I think it’s a huge statement about the MRFs and how they worked.
"The options we had, I was super impressed with them and we’re very fortunate to have their support. Proved these tyres worked well in these conditions. The whole team is stoked – Josh and Andrew did an absolutely fantastic job to win on speed and merit.”
Run by the Autosport Car Club, Rally Canterbury comprised 162 km of competition and ten special stages around the Okuku and Ashley Forests, with Rangiora as its starting point and Christchurch as the official finish.
Marston moves into third on the NZRC drivers’ championship points table with 68 points, behind Ben Hunt with 70 and Hayden Paddon on 88. Having not finished the opening round in Otago or contested the second round in Whangarei, Murphy is 16th on the table with 22 points.
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