ESCORTS RULE SILVER FERN RALLY
It was close – there was less than a minute in it at the end – but Welsh pair Meirion Evans and Lestyn Williams (Ford Escort Mk2 RS1800) did enough on the final day (Sunday Dec 4) to win the 2016 New Zealand Silver Fern Rally.
Second was the sister car of Australian Stewart Reid and Kiwi co-driver Dave Neil, third the first local duo home, Allan Dippie and Paul Coghill from Wanaka, ten minutes back in Dippie’s Porsche 911S.
The Porsche 911S of Dippie and Coghill, and Hamilton father and son Stuart and Brad McFarlane (which finished sixth), were the exceptions that proved the rule in the latest event, dominated numerically and on the road by Mk 2 Ford Escort RS1800s like those of Evans and Williams, and Reid and Neill.
The other eight top ten finishers were all in Mk 2 Escort RS1800s while a Nissan FJ20-powered Mk 2 of Derek Ayson and Gavin McDermott from Gore was first home and dominated the Challenge category (for late model or non-standard historic-era cars), crossing the finish line in Christchurch with a buffer of half an hour over runner-up, Australian rally veteran Ed Mulligan and co-driver Tony Brandon (BMW E30 325i).
The biennial, seven-day, New Zealand Silver Fern Rally is one of a the few genuine marathonstyle multi-day gravel events left on the world historic rallying calendar and as such attracts as many entries from the UK and Australia as it does New Zealand.
The 2016 event covered over 1000kms of closed special stages and over 1700km of touring stages between Christchurch in the north and Papatowai in the south, starting on Monday November 28 at Christchurch’s Addington Raceway and Events Centre at 7.30am and returned for a ceremonial finish at 4.00pm on Sunday Dec 04.
Early leaders included Englishman Simon Tysoe (who finished second in the 2014 event) and codriver Paul Morris, and former NZ rally champion Brian Stokes with wife Anne in the co-driver’s seat, both in Escort RS 1800s. But it was the metronomic consistency of Evans and Williams that told in the end.
Runner-up Reid and co-driver Neil, were ultimately quicker. As were Challenge category winners Ayson and McDermott. But try as they might, Reid and Neill could not peg back the 4.10 they lost to a time penalty on Day 2.
The results on the final day were typical with Evans and Williams winning three of the six stages and others – Reid and Neill, Brian and Anne Stokes, and fellow NZ rally veteran Shane Murland and co-driver John Benton one apiece.
Another driver left wondering what might have been was one of the other former National champions in the field, Bruce Herbert from Palmerston North.
With co-driver Jim Hey Herbert was quickest in the Challenge class through four of the six stages on the final day and two of the seven on Saturday.
However, having collected 15 minutes’ worth of time penalties early in the event when the diff in his Mitsubishi Lancer EX Turbo cried enough all Herbert could do was chip away at the combinations up front, eventually finishing a hardwon sixth in class.
That said, Derek Ayson and Gavin McDermott
did give everyone else in the Challenge category a glimmer of hope on the final day, with two slow stages.
Fortunately for the southern pair the problem – a broken rose-joint in the car’s rear suspension – first raised its head in a transport stage and Ayson made the call to back off the pace through the next stage (44) before fixing it with parts he knew his service crew had before the next.
However a wheel stud was stripped while that job was being done so he and McDermott had to complete the next stage (45) at a similar, gentler, pace to make sure they got to the lunch time service at Methven to replace the stud.
They did and were immediately back on the frontrunning pace of Herbert and Hey, and Hamilton pair Brent Taylor and Chris Ramsey in Taylor’s Toyota 86, in the final two stages.
With early event Challenge category pace-setter Dave Strong and co-driver Rob Scott (Honda Civic R) crashing and retiring from the event, and Charlie Evans and co-driver Sue O’Neill slowed after rolling their Honda Civic 1800, third place in the Challenge class, behind the Ayson/McDermott Escort and the BMW of Ed Mulligan and Tony Brandon, went to Dunedin builder Brodie Anderson and mate Brad Lyon in Anderson’s Mk 2 Escort.
The pair only finally decided to enter the event a fortnight before, but proved fast, consistent and able to bounce back after the odd off-road excursion for one of the most popular results of the event.
Finally, after winning five Targa New Zealand tarmac rally events run by new Silver Fern Rally owner and event manager the Ultimate Rally Group, circuit-owing entrepreneur Tony Quinn made his multi-day gravel marathon debut in this year’s Silver Fern Rally, finishing ninth in the Challenge category in a Toyota 86 navigated by Cassidy Solomon.
First home and winners of the Challenge class, Derek Ayson and Gavin McDermott in Ayson’s Nissan-engined #30 Ford Escort. Story by Ross MacKay. Photos by ProShotz.
The Fiat 131R of Yorkshiremen Matthew Robinson and Sam Collis was fast but fragile.
Charlie Evans and Sue O’Neill also rolled but were able to continue.
Williams and Lestyn on their way to a stage win.
Third home overall were Allan Dippie and Paul Coghill in a Porsche 911S.
The Ford Mustang of Warren Briggs and Gerry Bashford.
Former NZ Rally champ Brian Stokes had wife Anne along as co-driver.
Dave Strong and Rob Scott rolled out of the event.
Winners are grinners (l to r) Meirion Evans & Lestyn Williams, Derek Ayson & Gavin McDermott, and Stewart Reid & Dave Neill.
Stewart Reid and Dave Neill in the Evans/Lestyn sister car.