It will be a weekend to remember for Supercars ace Shane van Gisbergen, who has followed his exceptional class-winning drive in the City of Auckland Rally with a superb victory at the Battle of Jacks Ridge — beating some of the best rally drivers in the country on his debut weekend in the sport while driving a Mitsubishi Mirage AP4.
Phil Campbell and his Ford Fiesta claimed a credible second, after a near faultless day on track, ahead of Jack Hawkeswood. Hayden Paddon, meanwhile, looked to be a shoe-in to at least finish on the podium, if not claim the win. However a surprise crash during the exciting top-eight proceedings sidelined his assault and tore the event wide open.
“The last few days have been awesome, learning about rallying. I can’t thank the guys enough,” said van Gisbergen “Awesome competition, we’ve been separated by tenths all day. I don’t know what to say.”
When the dust settled on qualifying and the early running, an outright top eight order was confirmed consisting of Paddon, Ben Hunt, Jack Hawkeswood, Matt Summerfield, Emma Gilmour, Robbie Stokes, Phil Campbell, and Shane van Gisbergen — a mixture of ‘open’ class competitors competing unrestricted or in the AP4-led regulation-confined 4WD class.
It had been an interesting day of attrition as the Jacks Ridge surface evolved underneath the drivers and riders. There had been a huge crash in the morning for Clinton Cunningham and his Ford Fiesta over the flying finish. The most interesting corner for incidents, though, was the tight ‘Switchback’ left-hander, which was becoming rutted as the event wore on, becoming a make or break corner.
Those running wide were losing lots of time, or even tearing tyres off their car on the rockier wide surface. One of the biggest casualties at the corner was Glenn Inkster, who ran wide and had a soft impact on corner exit in his Mazda2 AP4.
Property owner Andrew Hawkeswood, four-time Bathurst 1000 champion Greg Murphy, and Hunt were among the major names to fall foul of car dramas. Murphy was out early, benching the Holden driver to the commentary box. Hawkeswood and Hunt had driveshaft failures, with the latter’s Subaru crew putting in a mammoth effort to rectify the issues and allow him to qualify for the top eight.
Paddon set the tone for the the top eight by setting a lightning 1:19.9 session prior to the final set of top-eight runs. It’s a time that was unlikely to be matched, especially given that the other hill-climb machine on the grid of Sloan Cox wasn’t able to make it into the top eight.
It looked like Paddon would be unstoppable for the overall prize, and was some two-seconds up on the next-best competitor of the final eight after two splits. However, the Saturday City of Auckland Rally winner would crash out — over-correcting over the ever-steepening dog-leg ‘Link’ on the other side of the track in the last sector.
Hitting the bank on an angle, Paddon and his passenger rolled, coming to a rest on their wheels but clearly out of the event. It cracked the event wide open, with van Gisbergen now the surprise leader heading into the second run of the top eight.
The recently crowned Bathurst 1000 winner, in only his second ever competitive rallying event, had set the fastest time in the first loop of top-eight runners via a 1:21.0 — underlined by a very clean run through both the Switchback and sector three.
He was seven tenths ahead of Hawkeswood, with Campbell and Summerfield also making it into the top four — leaving Stokes, Gilmour, and Hunt to claim fifth, sixth, and seventh outright.
Summerfield was first of the four to hit the track, setting a 1:23.0 after a relatively faultless run — having admitted prior that he hadn’t banked on making it so far through the competition. Campbell was next in his Fiesta, setting a sharp 1:22.4 to knock Summerfield, although it wasn’t quite his quickest time of the day.
Hawkeswood’s run was much more committed than Summerfield and Campbell, leaping longer over the main jump and landing a car-width wide of centre. His aggression cost him in the end, after he ran wide coming out of The Cutting.
His time was good enough for second, but was vulnerable to van Gisbergen if the Andrew Simms–backed driver put down a clean time. And that was the case; van Gisbergen throwing down a 1:21.3 and deciding a final battle between the Supercars star and giant-killer Campbell.
Van Gisbergen elected to take on the hill first in the final, slamming down a fully committed but slick 1:20.0 lap — a second quicker than his previous time and the quickest time of the day for a four-wheel drive class car, aided by a brand new set of Pirelli tyres. Campbell’s following time was precise and clinical, but simply couldn’t match van Gisbergen at 1:21.6.
Elsewhere, the two-wheel drive class was won by Chris Hey and his Toyota MR-2; beating the rotary-powered Mazda RX-7 and RX-8s of Charlie Evans and Marcus van Klink. In the four-wheel drive class, van Gisbergen pipped Raana Horan by 2.7 seconds, with Hawkeswood third.
In the CrossKart class, populated largely by visiting drivers from other disciplines, D1NZ champion and recently crowned New Zealand Endurance champ Darren Kelly taking top honours over Mark Tapper and Michael Pickens — the latter deciding against a final run due to back injury concerns.