Havelock North’s Stewart Taylor and his Gisborne-based co-driver Warwick Searle took victory in this weekend’s Rally Gisborne, holding off a strong challenge from Wellington driver Adam Bligh.
Despite recent downpours, Rally Gisborne competitors experienced overcast but dry conditions on the one-day rally which ran on Saturday 7 August.
Taylor, driving a state-of-the-art Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, was generally considered the favourite to take victory in the lead-up to the event. However the 35-year-old didn’t set the pace in the early stages – that honour was taken by 27-year-old Bligh who made a storming start in his older Mitsubishi Evo VI. Bligh won the first two stages, but slowed with a faulty fuel pump in the third special stage, allowing Taylor to take a 13.5 second lead after the opening trio of stages.
With the 52-strong field repeating the three stages during the afternoon, Taylor no longer had the disadvantage of sweeping loose gravel from the roads. Bligh scored another stage win but overall was unable to match Taylor’s pace and dropped back a further 3.4 seconds over the afternoon. Taylor’s final margin over Bligh was 16.9 seconds.
“We had to work really hard to win today,” said Taylor. “The first stage was very narrow and unforgiving plus I was a bit rusty. Stage two was a little bit better but stage three was when I really got my mojo back. The tyre wear was far worse than what I thought it would be and going into the last stage we had some badly-worn tyres on, so Warwick and I were quite relieved to take the win.”
Third place went to Coromandel teenager Alex Kelsey, who took the first outright stage win of his career on the final stage. The stage winning time moved Kelsey ahead of Grant Blackberry, who had been running third, by 3.8 seconds. Fifth place went to Peter Trotter.
The much anticipated two-wheel-drive battle between Aaron Cook and Tony McConachy was over before it began. McConachy had clutch problems right from the start and this issue combined with an off-road excursion saw McConachy finish the opening stage over 6.5 minutes behind Cook. By the end of the following stage, McConachy had retired and Cook was left to win Class C (1851cc and over 2WD class) and take the unofficial 2WD honours. Second in Class C was Cambridge’s Brent Taylor and third was Ben Thomasen of Tauranga.
Other class winners included Dave Burnett, from Auckland, as the solitary finisher in Class A (0-1400cc 2WD). Class B (1401-1850cc) was won by Lee Robson ahead of Rhys Musson and Sean Bryce. Class D (open four-wheel-drive) results mirrored the overall results and Class E (pre-1996 4WD) was won by Tony Dixon, heading home Darren Beard and Brendan Oakden. First local driver home was Darren Beard in a Mitsubishi Galant VR4, taking eighth place overall.
“The event ran really well,” said Rally Gisborne clerk of the course Stuart Barnett. “There were no major incidents, which is good and we were quite lucky with the weather also. Well done to Stewart and all the competitors that made it to the end of the day.”
Of the 52 competitors that left the Gisborne Cosmopolitan Club start on Saturday morning, 40 completed all the stages and made it back to the finish, also at the Gisborne Cosmopolitan Club, for the first running of Rally Gisborne since 2005.

Photo by Geoff Ridder

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