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Monster Tajima gratefully took the winner’s trophy for another year but missed on the prize he really wanted – a sub-eight minute course record – at Easter’s Race to the Sky hillclimb.

As expected, the Japanese driver was in a class of his own throughout the South Island, New Zealand event. He dominated practice and qualifying ahead of Swedish ace Kenneth Eriksson and, having qualifying in 8m12.7secs, seemed on course to become the first driver to duck under the eight minute mark in the final.

In the event he could only make it to the top in 8m03.9s, a time which was slower than his 8m01.1sec record from 2006. The Japanese driver put his disappointing time down to rough conditions on the rally sprint portion of the track at the base of the hill, which did not suit his Suzuki Special.

“On the very first corner there was a big rock that I slowed down to avoid, and then there was another corner at the base of the hill I was very careful on as well,” he said.

That left the win, his eighth on the event in nine starts, just a little flat, especially as there is a strong chance this will be the last Race to the Sky (see separate story).

“If I had the time below eight minutes I would leave feeling very happy,” Tajima said. “But now I want the race to continue so I can come back and try again.”

Eriksson too was expressing every hope that the Race to the Sky will continue, and was delighted to claim runner-up honours in the ex-Possum Bourne Subaru Impreza WRC, after failing to finish to 2006.

He showed total commitment in his driving and wrung every last ounce of performance out of the Impreza, which was no match for Tajima’s purpose-built hillclimb machine. The toll that took on the car manifested through a series of niggling mechanical problems that culminated with overheating near the end of his final run.

“I was probably on course for an 8m10sec time but backed off near the top,” Eriksson said after posting an 8m20.9sec time.

Running at the event for the first time in two years, and with his familiar midget racer fitted with a new type of supercharger for this event, Victorian racer Greg Hayward (Suzuki AWD midget) enjoyed a pitched battle for third place honours with top Kiwis Andrew Hawkeswood (Lancer Evo) and Ian Ffitch (BRM Super Quad).

“The new supercharger is giving me more power at the top end and less down low,” Hayward said.

Hayward’s mishaps along the way included clipping a bank on his final qualifying run and having his wheel come off just as he returned to the base of the course, having completed that run.

“It is my first time competing on gravel in two years, and it probably showed early on,” he said. “As for the wheel, I just hadn’t done up the wheel nuts properly. I was obviously pretty lucky the wheel didn’t come off when I was actually competing.”

Eight seconds separated the trio heading into the all-or-nothing final, with Hawkeswood the quickest of the bunch. In the final he powered clear to claim third place by 12 seconds from Hayward, who posted his best ever time for the course at 8m41.2s

Hawkeswood and Ffitch were also fighting for the coveted Possum Bourne Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the first resident New Zealander home. Hawkeswood scooped that award, for the third consecutive year, by 15 seconds.

Running a new Pulsator machine, Hayward’s midget-racing team mate, Greg Ackland, won what should have been a tight battle for sixth place after several of his leading rivals struck trouble in the final. They included Emma Gilmour (Impreza), who was sidelined by a transmission failure after qualifying sixth-fastest on Sunday morning.

Using Race to the Sky, like Gilmour, as a shakedown for next weekend’s Otago Rally, Australian classic rally driver, Peter Riseborough, piloted his Nissan Sunny to 95th overall and third in the historic rally class. The class was won by well-known local Duncan McCrostie (Nissan Bluebird), who is likely to be one of the top classic contenders next weekend.

Results: Silverstone Race to the Sky, 7-8 April

1. Nubuhiro ‘Monster’ Tajima (Japan) Suzuki Grand Vitara, 8m03.9s
2. Kenneth Eriksson (Sweden) Subaru Impreza WRC, 8m20.9s
3. Andrew Hawkeswood (NZ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, 8m29.5s
4. Brett Hayward (Australia) Suzuki AWD3, 8m41.2s
5. Ian Ffitch (NZ) BRM 1100, 8m44.9s
6. Greg Ackland (Australia) Pulsator GA, 8m54.3s
7. Glen Inkster (NZ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6.5, 9m00.2s
8. Peter Jackson (NZ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 3, 9m03.1s
9. Keith Stewart (NZ) Balig Yeti V8, 9m06.5s
10. Graeme Giles (NZ) Bombadier DS 650, 9m07.2

International Hillclimb: Tajima
National Hillclimb 4WD: Jackson
National Hillclimb 2WD: Trevor Crowe (NZ) Subaru Justy
Rallycourse 4WD: Inkster
Rallycourse 2WD: Barry Armiger (NZ) Mazda RX7
Rallycourse Classic: Duncan McCrostie (NZ) Nissan Bluebird Turbo
Open Wheelers: Hayward
Quads: Ffitch
Motorcycle: Nathan McAlwee (Auckland) KTM 450 SXF

Photos: David Thomson

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