Oz casts a spell on rally driver

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Derek Ayson conquered Australian roads to finish fourth overall at the Border Ranges Rally on Saturday.
Ayson raced as a guest driver in 4WD World owner Australian Ed Mulligan’s Escort among a challenging field in northern NSW.
Eight of the rally’s 11 planned stages were completed. Two stages were cancelled due to weather and one stage due to anti-rally protesters threatening to burn down a bridge.
Ayson competed with co-driver Cate Kelly, placing fourth overall and first in 2WD, first in classic cars, first in an Escort challenge and first in invitational.
Ayson said driving in Australia was an amazing experience.
‘‘I felt there was a bit of pressure to perform. In saying that, I hadn’t actually driven this car before. Even if it is similar to my car, they all have different handling and characteristics,’’ Ayson said. ‘‘It made me a little apprehensive due to not having any seat time, but once we hit that first corner it tipped in and it did everything right,’’ he said.
Ayson said he went to Australia without expecting to win.
Instead, he expected to drive as fast as possible and keep up with local drivers such as Clay Badenoch, who ended up sixth overall.
His co-driver, Kelly, was the mother of Badenoch’s co-driver, Erin Kelly.
‘‘It made for some very familyfriendly rivalry between the two cars,’’ he said.
‘‘They beat us in the first three stages before we came back to beat them in the next four.’’
Ayson was thankful for the way Kelly led the way with pace notes.
He had never written pace notes in New Zealand, as he normally used Neil Allport Motorsport’s computergenerated notes. Ayson was also thankful for the opportunity to race in Ed Mulligan’s car.
‘‘It was very generous of him to let me use his car and I was stoked to be able to get the results for him after the preparation he put into the car and the event.’’
Mulligan had another car, an Opel Manta, prepared for the event, which they had to pull from the race at the last minute due to an engine failure.
Ayson said he would return if asked again.
‘‘It is a really well-run event with superb roads similar to ours. I would return in a heartbeat.’’