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The career-best runner-up finish at the South Canterbury Spring Rally last weekend was a confidence booster for young Canterbury driver Robbie Stokes. Stokes, 23, and his sister Amy, 27, led the rally briefly in their Ford Fiesta AP4 and edged Josh Marston for second placing by just 1.8 seconds after a rally-long duel on the fast South Canterbury roads. It was the Stokes siblings' second rally start in a 4WD turbo car, having started out rallying with a Toyota Levin and progressing to a Ford Fiesta R2. "It was by far our best rally. I put it down to being committed to having a really good crack at it," said Stokes. "I did the Ben Nevis Hillclimb and the Catlins was our first rally, but we only did two stages there. So, you could say it was our first proper rally in the AP4."

Robbie Stokes took his best result at the South Canterbury event. Photo: Geoff Ridder

The son and daughter of double New Zealand champion, Brian Stokes, have quickly shown potential in the transition to a 4WD turbo car. "It’s my goal to become New Zealand Rally Champion and you won’t achieve that if you’re not prepared to have a go," Stokes added. "I was a wee bit apprehensive beforehand because, being South Canterbury, it’s a very fast rally. But right from the first corner it felt comfortable. "The car was really well set up, Amy’s notes were spot on and we got into a good rhythm."

The Stokes clan: Robbie, Anne, Brian, Amy and Jack. Photo: Geoff Ridder

Stokes’ goal had been a full 2020 New Zealand Rally Championship campaign before COVID-19 restrictions forced the cancellation of the series and many other calendar changes. "It’s the same for everyone. This year is now about getting the car fully sorted out and getting as much seat time as possible before Otago next year," Stokes said. "Our plan is to do the Canterbury Rally next month and then take it up to the Auckland Rally and Jack’s Ridge. "I’m really looking forward to getting onto some of those cambered North Island roads and the Riverhead Forest stage. "We’re also hoping to do some testing and we might take the R2 Fiesta to the Lawrence Rally to get some more seat time."

Stokes' Ford Fiesta AP4 undergoing regulation service on Saturday. Photo: Geoff Ridder

Stokes believes the Fiesta R2 played an important role in the development of his driving. "One hundred per cent. Look at who has come through the Fiesta ST and R2 cars in New Zealand and you can see it’s a really good start for driving R5s and AP4s. "In some ways the AP4 is easier to drive. If you run wide there is power to get you out of trouble so it’s more forgiving and you can control it with the throttle." Stokes believes a three-year plan to win the New Zealand Rally Championship can be a realistic goal. Although first contested in 1975, the NZRC has never produced a second-generation champion. With Stokes and Jack Hawkeswood currently emerging talents in the sport, there’s some competition to write that chapter of Kiwi rally history.
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