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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.

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