Sunday, Nov 26 04:26pm
AUTHOR: Simon Chapman

Hawkeswood and Cress win New Zealand Rally Championship

After two decades of trying New Zealand Rally Championship longstay Andrew Hawkeswood and co-driver Jeff Cress have been crowned 2017 champion.

The Force Motorsport pilot finished third in the season ending Rally New Zealand behind rally leader Hayden Paddon and second placed Matt Summerfield.

“It’s bloody awesome eh,” he said after completing the 12th and final stage of the rally.

“Holy hell… that was hard work man. It was just, y’know, trying to drive at that pace where you just don’t want to make a mistake. That was hard work.

“Awesome! Holy cow! 20 years and here we are, finally.

“We’ve got a great team. I can’t do without them. You’ve got to have all these people around you and I’m happy for them.”

Hawkeswood came into the final round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship 10 points ahead of second placed Matt Summerfield. With 44 points up for grabs he needed to have a strong finish.

Hawkeswood started the two-day rally slowly and slotted into tenth while Summerfield started strongly with the third fastest time. Hawkeswood stepped up his pace in the second stage of the rally on the iconic Whaanga Coast with the seventh fastest stage time.

The stage proved to be the tipping point in the championship when Summerfield slowed with a puncture. That dropped them from third in the order after SS1 to ninth after SS2.

While Summerfield suffered, Hawkeswood benefitted. A seventh fastest stage time moved them ahead of Summerfield, Richard Bateman and Emma Gilmour.

Hawkeswood continued to improve and by SS3 he was up to third behind surprised contenders Adam Bligh and his co-driver Ric Chalmers. The third fastest time in the stage and the combination of other duos dramas meant they rocketed up the order.

Summerfield was trying to recover too. After he dropped down the order he got himself back up to fifth and within reach of Hawkeswood.

By the end of day one Hayden Paddon led the field convincingly, while Hawkeswood sat just 15 seconds ahead of Summerfield in second and third respectively.

The start of day two saw Hawkeswood start slowly once again with the ninth fastest time through SS7. With Summerfield setting the third fastest time, he moved up to second ahead of Hakweswood.

Despite a blown head gasket, Summerfield was able to make it back to the midday service and maintain second place.

At service Hawkeswood was upbeat about his prospects of winning the title with three stages to go despite his own struggles.

“It hasn’t been the easiest day, but we’re still here,” he said.

“I’m just struggling with the pace to be honest. It’s hard to pick it. It’s way hard to drive a measured drive than just drive flat out.

“It’s definitely not as much fun. The last stage was alright, but this morning, man, trying to pick the speed was so hard.

“20 years is quite a long time, but I’m not too phased about having to drive slow. I’ve never really been a trophy hunter but it’s about time I won something.”

On the other side of the coin Summerfield couldn’t do much but hope something went wrong for Hawkeswood.

“I dunno, I’m just trying to conserve. But it’s pretty hard to conserve and still drive safely. I’m in split minds, pushing on a wee bit, but it’s got a blown head gasket and we’ve put water in it three times now. We’ll keep boxing on.”

With the head gasket issue Summerfield was forced to nurse the car home. He was forced to take water with him on the remaining stages to ensure the car didn’t overhear.

Summerfield wasn’t able to go super fast during the second run through the stages in the afternoon to ensure the car survived. Fortunately it was enough to maintain second ahead of Hawkewood.

However, it wasn’t enough as Hawkeswood also maintained third on the road to win his first New Zealand Rally Championship.

At the end of the championship Hawkeswood led the points on 117, Summerfield on 103, Ben Hunt on 99, David Holder on 80 and Graham Featherstone on 69. 

Photo: Force Motorsport