Waking up severely hung-over at 6am on Saturday morning I had to contemplate whether the near two hour ride to Fairlie on easily the coldest morning of the year was worth the pay-off of watching some rally cars.
Generally speaking, I don’t feel standing in negative degree temperatures with numbing toes while having your ear drums abused is recommended if you’re not feeling 100 per cent. But when the first car you see on the day is Hayden Paddon coming around a blind bend completely sideways at 100km/h-plus on an icy road, any ill feelings quickly pass by.
On Saturday the South Canterbury hosted a round of the New Zealand Rally Championship for the first time since 1984. Thank goodness the decision has already been made to include the event in next year’s calendar – it’s a spectator’s paradise.
Even with the hesitation to get out of bed and desire to get back to Christchurch before dark, I made it to four of the rally’s 11 special stages. However, it was possible to easily get to at least six stages, including a blast around Levels Raceway, due to the close proximity of stages and number of accessible intersections.
Compare that to the recent Canterbury Rally around Ashley Forest, where you’ll spend 50min driving from one spectator point to another and be lucky to see three stages. Perhaps it’s time to make points of the forest more accessible to spectators or make use of the fast-flowing public roads surrounding the forest in North Canterbury.
From talking to drivers, the proximity of the stages in South Canterbury also appears to be a hit with them, making for less time in the car between stages.
The South Canterbury Rally was one of the fastest in the world. In all but one of the 10 public road stages, the top stage time was set at an average speed of more than 120km/h, made even more remarkable considering the drivers were dealing with icy roads in the early morning stages.
We may not be getting the return of a round of the World Rally Championship any time soon, but with 96 entries at the weekend’s event, including our own WRC driver and two of Australia’s top drivers, the competitive level of rallying on a whole appears to be in a very good spot in New Zealand.
It might be a further drive from Christchurch than Ashley Forest but come next year the South Canterbury Rally will be a highly-anticipated day out, especially for the Fairlie pork belly pie waiting to warm me up and blow off some dust.