Following a six year break from competition, Stephen Barker finished last weekend’s Rally of the Far North in third overall.
With new navigator Flat Bush’s Kieran Anstis and a borrowed Mitsubishi Evo 9 for the event, the only expectation was to complete every stage, rather than focus on chasing a result.
“This is the first time Kieran and I had teamed up for an event and I expected we would be off the pace in the first stage while we gelled and I got comfortable using pace notes again, but I was surprised to see weren’t too far off the pace during the morning’s opening stage,” said Barker.
Stage two saw the pair take their first stage win on gravel and move up to third overall.
“Stage two was the longest and most technical in the rally so to take a stage win in a full group N Mitsubishi Evo 9 after only one stage back in the seat was a very cool feeling and a great confidence boost going into the remaining stages,” said Barker.
“The longest stage of the rally, stage 3 at 52 kilometres, was to be another test which would suit the Evo 9 but was unfortunately cancelled.”
The pair completed a very high speed stage 4 in fifth place, only dropping 3 seconds from the leader and remained in third position overall at the lunch time service break in the Kaitaia township.
A lack of seat time and confidence from Barker to commit to many fast corners and blind crests throughout the afternoon’s stages saw the pairing complete the remaining three stages respectably but would ultimately cost the team second place.
“The car is under-powered in the faster stages and I really needed to commit 100 per cent to the pace notes Kieran was calling to me to stay at the pace of some of the other competitors. In a borrowed car we decided to limit the risk and consolidate a fantastic third position .“
“ It was like being back in the Fiesta days for me with Ben Hunt and Phil Campbell driving well and winning stages,” he said.
But Lee Robson would take top honours followed by Campbell. “It seems my speed is still there which is reassuring!”
Last week, Anstis was also selected to attend the Rally New Zealand Co-Drivers Academy.
The academy was set up to help guide upcoming Kiwi talent to becoming professional co-drivers. Run over three days, the academy brought in professional international co-drivers Alex and Rhianon Gelsomino to teach the six co-drivers. The academy will go over all aspects of the sport from understanding regulations, pace note writing, health and fitness and self-marketing.
“My goal is to ultimately be competing internationally as a professional co-driver,” said Anstis.
“To be selected for the Rally New Zealand Co Drivers Academy is going to help me get closer to that goal.
“I have always looked up to Alex and Rhianon so having the opportunity to learn from them is very cool and I will be making the most of the opportunity.”