In a virtual repeat of the opening round of the championship leading New Zealand rally driver Chris West was forced out of the International Rally Of Whangarei, Round 3 of the New Zealand Rally Championship, just 3 kilometres short of the finish today. After finishing third equal on day one of the event, West of Christchurch, was battling for second place as the second day of the rally headed for it's conclusion on Sunday. However in a scene reminiscent of the opening round at Otago in April West and co-driver Chris Cobham of Palmerston North had to retire the Andrew Simms Mitsubishi EVO 9 within sight of the end of the final stage when a tyre punctured and the spare was also found to be going down.

"It's demoralising but it's the game we play," said a disappointed Westy at the end of a day that dealt him another tough blow. "We had a good day today but it just did not go our way. Anyone can be in line for that but unfortunately for us at the moment we have had more than our fair share of it. The car is capable but we have had no luck. We know we can do it and we will keep pressing on. The big concern is that we were 3 kilometres away from raising another whole lot of championship points."

West arrived in Whangarei third in the point standings of the Vantage Aluminium Joinery New Zealand Rally Championship keen for some solid points to continue his challenge. After the disappointment on todays final stage West has now dropped to fourth. A similar fate befell Westy, the New Zealand Rally Champion in 2004, at the opening round in Otago when a wheel rim shattered just a few kilometres from the end of the rally after West and Cobham had dominated. Without those two harsh blows West would currently be very much to the fore in the championship battle.

West, the 2008 winner of the Rally Of Whangarei, was certainly competitive throughout the weekend in his Andrew Simms Mitsubishi EVO 9, finishing in the top four in eleven of the fifteen stages he completed. After struggling with the car a little on Saturday when he finished third equal with Auckland driver Patrick Malley he delivered a great drive on Sunday in wet, dismal conditions only to again fall foul of bad luck within sight of the finish.

The next round of the championship for the Andrew Simms Mitsubishi Rally Team, the Rally Of Nelson, takes place over the weekend of 21/22 August.

-source: chris west