A stomping last minute charge by Ben Jagger in the final stage at Rally of the North on Saturday came to an abrupt halt when his Subaru WRX suddenly burst into flames just three kilometres from the end of the rally.
Time lost due to a puncture early afternoon saw Rally of the North's number one seeded driver Jagger clawing his way back up the order and looking strong for the win before an engine fire forced the Whangarei driver to retire.
The fire was thought to be caused by a ruptured power steering line which has yet to be confirmed.
"We were doing around 200 kms and when I braked for a bend I saw what I thought were sparks from the brakes which turned out to be flames coming down the side of the car past my window." said Jagger.
"We emptied our extinguisher into the engine bay and luckily Dylan (Turner) turned up soon after and stopped to help. Malcolm (Reid) was out of the car and running up to us with their extinguisher before Dylan even had the car stopped." he said.
Four rally cars in total came to the aid of the stricken Subaru to put the fire out and make sure the pair were not injured before they continued on their way through the final few kilometres of the rally. Times were approximated for those drivers who aided Jagger to reflect their most likely result in the stage.
The morning had brought an exciting battle of the Northlanders betweenr Jagger and Kerikeri driver KingsleyThompson who had taken an early lead. Jagger had been closing the gap on him before Thompson was forced to retire with a mechanical failure in SS6.
Unfortunately Jagger suffered a puncture in that same stage preventing his assuming the lead dropping him into third spot behind Lee Robson then Dylan Turner. Robson then rolled his car out of contention in SS7 leaving Auckland driver Turner and Jagger to battle over the victory.
"We hit a rock earlier on and had to change tyres which lost us around three minutes. We were a minute behind the leader with two stages left and going into the last stage we had cut that to less than 30 seconds so were pretty confident of getting ahead." said Jagger.
"It was very disappointing to have the rally end like it did because we thought we could pull off the win. Dylan was also disappointed because he reckoned he was going to take us but we never had the chance to find out who really was quickest in the last stage." Jagger said.
Thus ends the 2011 rally season for Ben Jagger and co-driver Ben Hawkins with two very solid results from their final two rallies being torn away from their grips just before the finish line.
In the final round of the New Zealand Rally Championship at Rally Hawkes Bay the pair were just a mere few kilometres away from achieving their first podium finish in the four wheel drive category when their engine blew at the end of the final special stage. They finished the season in ninth overall after five rounds of the championship.
Ben Jagger plans to contest the national championship for their third time in 2012 and will spend the off season preparing the car and seeking sponsorship support.
"I want to thank SeedForce and all my sponsors, my mum and dad plus all the family for their support. The crew of course for all their hard work through the year and musn't forget my co-driver Ben (Hawkins). said Jagger.