Matt Summerfield raced to victory on South Otago roads as the New Zealand rally season powered back from a five-month COVID-19 hiatus on Saturday.
Summerfield drove his Mitsubishi Mirage AP4 to a 38.8secs winning margin ahead of Gore-based top seed and four-time winner, Andrew Graves (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 3), to win the Catlins Coast Rally.
"Winning the rally wasn’t our top priority here but it’s a great bonus. This year is all about getting miles in the Mirage and being ready for 2021,’’ Summerfield said.
"We had a spin in fifth gear early in the first stage and after that the rest of the day was pretty much plain sailing.
"I had to do a little re-learning of how to read the roads [the Catlins Rally doesn’t allow safety notes], but doing a rally is better than a rallysprint because you get into a groove with a full day of driving and gain some firm ideas about where the car is at," he explained.
Summerfield plans to continue his 2020 campaign with outings at the Timaru and Canterbury rallies, as well as the Ashley Forest Rallysprint.
Matt Summerfield took a dominant win in the Catlins Rally.
"Our plan is to keep it local this year and get as much mileage as possible,’’ he said.
The win fulfilled a promise to co-driver Jared Christofferson, who was partnering Summerfield for the third time at the Catlins Rally.
"After we went off the road last year, I told him we’d keep coming back till we got one.’’
The Catlins event – the first gravel rally in New Zealand since the Westland season opener in mid-March – saw 81 crews cross the start ramp in the town of Osaka.
Graves won the opening stage to establish an initial lead over Robbie Stokes and Summerfield.
Stokes’ Ford Fiesta AP4 was soon sidelined with an oil leak and after trimming Graves’ lead in stage two, Summerfield surged to the front with a commanding win in the 37.7km McNab’s Farm stage.
Regan Ross debuted his new Ford Fiesta R5 and finished in third place.
Two more fastest times stretched Summerfield’s lead to 52.0secs, and while Graves won the final stage, it was only enough to reduce Summerfields’s advantage to 38.8secs at the finish.
The pace of the battle between the two leaders powered them well clear of the rest of the field.
Josh Marston (Holden Barinas AP4) held third spot for most of the rally, but a slow final stage dropped him to fifth as Kaikoura’s Regan Ross grabbed third place on debut in his new Ford Fiesta R5, and Balclutha’s Dean Bond (Lancer Evo 6.5) moved up to fourth.
Best of the two-wheel-drive field to secure a strong sixth place was Deane Buist in his VW Golf GTI.
Completing the top-10 were Subaru Impreza drivers Matthew Wright and 2019 winner Garet Thomas, along with Marcus van Klink (Mazda RX8) and David Clearwater (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4).
Mechanical problems ended Hayden Paddon's run as zero car prematurely.
New Zealand champion Ben Hunt made his first gravel appearance of 2020 and finished 11th in one of the Magnum Motorsport Subaru Impreza H6 cars.
Delays cost Sean Haggerty (Subaru Impreza) and Dave Quantock (Mitsubishi Mirage AP4) opportunities for a top-10 finish and they finished 12th and 13th respectively, while 1600cc class winner, Richie Chadwick, was a notable performer, taking 14th in his Toyota Levin.
Hayden Paddon’s presence on the Catlins stages turned out to be a brief one.
Running ahead of the field with pace notes as a test outing, his Hyundai i20 AP4 was retired after two stages. Paddon said the car had a mechanical problem and he didn’t want to risk it further on the event, without deeper investigation.
Rallying continues in New Zealand with a Maramarua Forest Clubmans event on Sunday, September 6.
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