Ari Pettigrew has developed a giant-killing reputation in New Zealand rallying and finishing runner-up to Kiwi WRC winner Hayden Paddon at the recent Rally Otago has only cemented that reputation.
Paddon aside, Pettigrew outclassed the regular New Zealand championship contenders over the first day of closed road stages before nursing home a sick engine in his Holden Barina AP4 to hold onto his runner-up position when the opening rally of the championship season finished in Dunedin.
However, the unexpected cost of rebuilding the damaged engine may curtail the young flyers plans to contest the national series, unless he can find some urgent financial support. The Cromwell based rally ace is even auctioning off some damaged panels from the car to help fund the engine rebuild.
Pettigrew desperately wants to make the next round in Whangarei in four weeks time, an important event because, like Otago, qualifies for the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship and is the final round of the Pacific Cup. It is where the 24-year-old Cantabrian took his maiden NZRC podium last year.
In the chase for best-of-the-rest at Otago behind Paddon in his Hyundai i20 R5, Pettigrew had a two-day long battle with former national champion Ben Hunt – also in a new generation R5 rally car – and expects the same level of competition if he can get to Northland.
“I’d like to repeat the performance we did at Otago. I’m sure Ben will be quick up there,” said Pettigrew. “The roads and his car are probably more suited to the twister roads up there, but I really enjoy them. They have a really cool flow to them which I enjoy. I think we can be just as competitive at Whangarei as we were at Otago.”
Pettigrew first came to national attention for his giant-killing exploits in a home-build BMW – a most unusual rally car, that netted him outstanding top-end results among four-wheel-drive turbo powered cars. But without the funds or the equipment to progress his driving career stalled and he instead turned to working for Paddon’s Cromwell based rally car operation.
Recognising Ari’s untapped potential Daniel Alexander, the owner of Manukau Auto Centre, entrusted Pettigrew with his Holden Barina AP4 rally car. It was originally built in 2017 for touring car ace Greg Murphy, who campaigned it for a couple of years before it had a few outings in the hands of David Holder. Then it was sold to Alexander and sat largely unused until it was shipped south to Cromwell for Pettigrew.
The use of the Barina has allowed Pettigrew to mix it with the country’s other leading rally drivers at the top end of the field. While most of his main competitors are now in factory-build R5 cars from Skoda, Ford, Citroen or Hyundai, and with a few in newer AP4 cars, Pettigrew needs to deliver giant-killing performances to put his aging AP4 Barina at the front.
While Pettigrew has free use of the rally car, he must prepare it, fund the car’s development and find the budget to compete in the rallies.
Over the off-season Pettigrew set about making the car more competitive and decided to put “all his eggs in one basket” for a “decent crack” at Rally Otago.
“We spent a fair bit of money developing the car in the off-season, particularly with the engine where we were lacking a bit of power last year compared to the other cars. That was one of the areas we focused on as well as getting some weight out of the car. We were on a pretty limited budget so putting the extra money on the car meant we had less to spend on competing for the rest of the season after Otago,” said Pettigrew.
Pettigrew and co-driver Jason Farmer certainly delivered at Otago – a pity the engine didn’t. To make it worse they still needed to make it through the second day which made matters worse but delivered their stand-out runner-up performance.
The warning signs started in the 20km Danseys Pass stage, two short stages from the finish of the first day when the Barina crew were holding a comfortable second place.
“Three-quarters of the way through Danseys and the warning light came on the dash as the water temperature got pretty hot,” recalled Pettigrew. “It was a bit of a mission to try and find water after that stage, stopping at the nearest creek or cow trough we could find on the way back to Dunedin trying to top it up with water.”
At the Saturday night end-of-day service in Dunedin Pettigrew’s service crew discovered a blown head gasket. After putting in as much head gasket repair as they could and re-torquing the engine’s head, they prepared to tackle the final seven special stages on the last day of competition.
“We had a reasonable size lead, nearly 50-seconds back to Ben so we just had to manage that the best we could. With it overheating we couldn’t run antilag and pulled the [turbocharger] boost right back just to stop it from overheating as much, which made the car quite hard to drive when it was not as responsive. I had to adapt my driving style to make that work as well.”
Although they leaked some time on Sunday’s stages, Pettigrew and Farmer held on to second place behind Paddon and finished 22-seconds clear of Hunt.
“We gave the engine a pretty hard time. It got up to 120-degrees a couple of times so we need to source a new engine before Whangarei as well as finding the last bit of budget to get to the rally as well,” he added.
Now the race against the clock is not over the gravel stages but in the days leading up to Whangarei to secure the funding to replace his rally car’s engine.
If the giant-killer can make it, he must be an odds-on favourite for another podium at Whangarei and a good crack at the Pacific Cup, which he also currently lies in second place. A top result will also put him in a strong position for the overall New Zealand Rally Championship with two rounds set for South Canterbury and Bay of Plenty, plus two more yet to be confirmed.
Header Image: TayB | Words: Supplied