The Silver Fern Rally had been on my calendar for all of 2014. Unfortunately, the cost of covering all the other rallies during the season left me unable to go. Imagine my surprise when about a week out I get a phone call from Andrew Shrimpton saying due to unforeseen circumstances one of his team was no longer able to go and would I like to take their place. Could I be this lucky? Turns out I could!
The deal was I had to come and help the team move from motel to motel each day and cook for them in the evenings, leaving the team to concentrate on the rally. So long as I could do this, Andrew said I could be free during the day to go and take photos etc. How lucky am I?!!
So with permission from the family and work, I prepared for the 10 days away. Well I say prepare, I really meant throw everything in a bag the night before! I was pretty excited, especially as the media release from the Silver Fern had billed it as the World’s Greatest Rally!
Andrew picked me up on Thursday morning and we headed off to Rotorua to pick up Warren and then head south for Wellington. We decided to stop in Wellington for the night, catching the ferry across to Picton first thing Friday morning, arriving in time for documentation.
Day 1 – Picton – Blenheim
The day was to start with a car show in the main High Street. A chance for fans to see the cars and drivers up close, followed by a ceremonial start. I decided to hang around and shoot each car as it was waved away to start the rally. I had worked out that I should be able to photograph each car across the start and then drive approximately an hour south to walk into SS4.
The weather was fantastic, hot and dry. I knew there was a ford in SS4 if I was prepared to walk 1.5kms. I arrived in time and set off carrying all my camera gear and hiked all the way to the ford only to find it was dry. The good news was it was also near some pretty good corners, so I should be able to get some good shots. After a short wait I could hear the cars in the stage. Before long I could hear the first car approaching. I was surprised to hear it was only cruising and not flying. As it came around the corner I could see the crew had removed their helmets and were touring. This was very quickly followed by more cars touring. It turns out the stage had to be cancelled due to a security breach. Unfortunately by the time I hiked all the way out again, I was unable to catch up with the rally again that day. I also missed any of the Marlborough Rally competitors, which were following behind the Silver Fern. Gutted. At least there was another eight days to get more photos.
Unfortunately for our team, the rear sub frame broke causing the service crew to work late into the evening, and due to a mix up with the understanding of the rules, we incurred a 10min penalty for not having the car in Parc Ferme before using the “Get out of jail free” card. After several hours hard work the repair was complete and the car good to go again.
Day 2 – Blenheim to Westport
Eager to get my first action shots of the rally, I got going early. I had planned to skip SS1 and head to the end of SS2 and walk in. Arriving in time I started the hike in. I walked for about 20 mins or so and found a spot. It wasn’t perfect but it would be ok. Before long quite a few people turned up to spectate. I think this just goes to show the popularity of the rally when spectators are willing to walk so far into a stage, especially when it’s in the middle of nowhere! The cars arrived along with a lot of dust. Brent Rawstron was first to arrive and was looking really quick. Jeff Judd also looked like a man on a mission. One after another the Escorts kept coming. Hearing all the BDA’s in the forest was spectacular. Another car which looked and sounded great was John Spencer’s Nissan 240RS. He was dealing to it too. Awesome to watch.
Due to the dust, and being in the trees, it was making photography pretty difficult. I decided to start walking back toward the finish to find some open areas where hopefully the dust would clear away faster between each car.
In the next clearing back there were even more spectators that had made the effort to come and watch. This is great for the sport! As I was taking photos, I had missed what a couple of the spectators were doing, but as I was shooting Dermot Martin, it become clear very quickly. Dermot’s Fiesta has the number plate 2MOON5. As I stopped shooting and stood up I could see these 2 guys pulling up their pants commenting on how they just had to show 2 moons to the driver!
After shooting the whole field I made my way back to the car as quickly as I could and was going to try and jump ahead of the rally and shoot in SS10. This would allow me to see the cars in a second stage for the day as well as get to Westport in time to check the team into the motel, and shop for dinner etc.
The final stage of the day was a Memorial to Royce Watson, who tragically lost his life in an event last year. I think this was a great way to honour someone who was so entrenched into the sport. There would also be other stages during the rally dedicated to Andrew Grundy and Willie Rutherford. Well done to the organisers for doing this.
I was able to arrive in Westport and get the shopping done, and get into the town to walk around the service area. I caught up with Andrew and the team, only to find they had had a broken exhaust that was needing some emergency welding. The car was once again repaired and in Parc Ferme in time.
Day 3 – Westport to Christchurch.
I was really looking forward to today as I’d never been through Arthurs Pass and had heard that the scenery was spectacular. Again I got going early and walked into the end of one of the early stages of the day. I stood at the end of a long straight on a left hander where the yellow marker boards were. Jeff Judd was sensational through here. He carried a lot more speed than I was expecting. Fantastic! Vince Bristow and Dave Strong were also looking very quick through here.
As soon as the whole field were done I shot off in the car. Despite the weather turning a little on the damp side, the drive through Arthurs Pass didn’t disappoint. I really want to come back when I can spend more time looking around and taking photos. The rally was going to stop in Arthurs Pass for lunch break/service. I used this break to keep driving and get ahead of the field. There were two stages to go that day and I was torn between them. I knew there was a big water crossing in the last stage of the day, but that meant getting locked into the last stage of the day which would hold me up from doing my duties for the team, so I opted for the first stage after lunch. I had heard that this stage also had a ford in it towards the finish, so I arrived before the road closure and drove in from the finish, only to find the ford was dry, so I kept driving. As time was against me I was conscious I needed to find a spot and get the car safe before the road closure. I only just made it, but found a spot on a left hand junction onto a small bridge.
The number of spectators turning up gave me confidence this was a good spot. I got chatting to one of them who had come from Australia to watch. Turns out it was Jeff Judd’s uncle – Good to meet you Phil!
I shot this junction from the inside of the corner using a wide angle lens. This makes for some great shots but can leave you a little close to the cars! Despite the earlier rain and damp conditions, the road was dry as and the sun was now baking the area. Back into the dusty conditions again. Thankfully it was in the open with a good breeze. Jeff Judd flew into the junction and nailed it. How he missed the concrete sides of the small bridge I will never know – Millimeter perfect! Other drivers looked great through here. I’m sure some drivers saw me waiting to take photos and gave it the big toss in. Certainly Chris Woudernberg had been tossing his car around from the start!
I had been given the night off from ‘Kitchen Bitch’ duties and we were going to eat at the motels restaurant. By the time the day was done, the motels restaurant was closed (it shut at 19:30), so by the time the team were back to the motel it was too late. After showering and heading further into the city we were disappointed to find restaurant after restaurant had closed the kitchens early. The only place we could find to eat was Denny’s – it really wasn’t a good meal but we had no choice.
Day 4 – Christchurch to Timaru
I was still hoping to get into two stages today. The first would be into Willies Pleasure, a memorial to Willie Rutherford. This stage was set in Akaroa just off Summit Road. For those of you that don’t know, this area it very hilly, with narrow roads and VERY big drops off the side. I had planned to shoot on a corner about 900m into the stage down a steep hill. It was a sharp left hander which meant I should be able to get the view of the rest of Banks Peninsula in the background. Due to the nature of the corner and road it was cautioned, so I wasn’t really expecting action shots, but Jeff Judd proved me wrong as he flew around the bend throwing up a dust cloud and getting sideways! Being a long winding road down the hill, the other cars were soon joining him on the stage, meaning from my vantage point, I could see 3 or more cars on the hill at the same time. The noise of the BDA’s echoing off the hills was magical.
The downside to this location was the hike back out afterwards. It might only have been 900m, but in places it was really steep and my camera bag felt like it had rocks in it.
SS25 – Was next up. Unfortunately this stage was cancelled as Brent Rawstron went off the road and I believe ended up blocking it.
Unfortunately for Andrew, the diff mount on the sub frame broke again, and would need some emergency repairs. As luck would have it, a friend of a friend of Andrew’s had a workshop at the back of his house, where he had all the tools needed to repair the car. Not only did the car have issues but the service van had also developed an issue, so Warren and Andrew shot off into town to try and get the van fixed whilst Reece, Trevor and Andrews friends worked on making the diff mount stronger. I felt sorry for the guys fixing the cars as the temperature had dropped significantly during the evening and was now really cold. Once again, the generosity of people shone through and the car was fixed. I love this side of rallying!
Day 5 – Timaru to Dunedin
To get ahead of the rally today, I decided to skip the first 4 stages of the day and head for SS30 – Pentland Hills. I arrived well before the road closure and decided to drive the length of the stage looking for a good spot. The road started off wide and fast but very quickly narrowed up and became tight and twisty, with some good drops off the side of the road. The road slowly made its way up and over a ridge. As I dropped over the other side, there was a closed gate just before a very rough/rocky ford (another dry one!)
I knew the gates would be open for the rally once the road was closed, but I always work on the principle if I find a gate closed, I close it behind me. I drove through the gate, stopped and jumped out and closed the gate. Jumping back in the car to move on it became apparent very quickly the car wasn’t going to move. The electronic park brake had seized and would not release. Having already walked into two stages that had been cancelled, I suddenly realized I was going to cause another one if I couldn’t move the car. I tried putting it in gear and dragging it to the side of the road, but it just wouldn’t move. I figured as it was all electronic, I’d try what my IT department always start with – “Have you rebooted?” So I switched everything off and waited 15mins and turned it back on and tried again – Nothing! Still stuck fast. I was now starting to get concerned, and the road closure couldn’t be too far behind me, and I had no telephone signal to alert anyone.
I grabbed the user manual out of the glove box (that’s how desperate I was!) and started to read it. Eventually I found a section which dealt with releasing the Electronic Park Brake if it fails. Turns out if you take apart the center console there is a release cable. It requires the use of the jack handle, but it worked and I was able to drive on. I was extremely relieved that I wasn’t going to be a cause of a stage cancellation!
The weather threatened to pour with rain during this stage. In fact, I could see it raining all around, but nothing where I was stood. It was going to be another dusty stage. The corner I stood on was a good left hander. Leading into this corner was a really long straight, so I thought there might be some good action as the drivers set up for the corner. Turned out most didn’t. They were hard on the brakes, keeping it nice and tidy and then fast out of the corner. Brent Taylor managed to throw his car sideways through here, but then to be fair, he appears to do that in every corner! Some of the photos of cars exiting the corner show the rain coming, but it still never made it onto the stage.
The plan was to skip the service and drive down the coast towards Dunedin to try and get ahead of the rally and shoot the last stage of the day. I changed my mind as I had to drive right through the service at Kurow, so I quickly jumped out and decided to have a 5 min walk around and take some images. I couldn’t stay long as I really wanted to get down to SS32 before the field left.
At this point the rain caught up with me, and the weather turned really cold and wintery. I walked a way into the stage having a good look, but realized the best spot was probably back near the finish. As I walked back, there was a blind left hander dropping downhill. I very nearly stood on the opposite bank to shoot cars through here, but figured if someone got it wrong, it would be a bad place to stand, so I carried on around the corner and set up. As the cars flew through the last few corners, it was great to see them change direction with a quick flick of the rear end. We heard one car coming at speed followed by a very brief bit of silence, and then we heard the car again. Around the corner came John Spencer in his Nissan 240 which was all bent out of shape. I was with several other spectators and there was a quick discussion that he couldn’t have just done it as there was no noise. How wrong were we?! Within seconds, another spectator came running around the bend with all the parts that had come off the Nissan, claiming he had rolled and landed on his wheels and just kept going! The in-car footage in the footage below shows that John hit the bank exactly where I was going to stand.
Day 6 – Dunedin to Invercargill
Today I was needed to help refuel the car after the first stage, so the car was full before taking on the 107km stage. Arriving on the ridge where I was to meet the car, I was met with gale force winds and horizontal rain. According to the internet, the wind-chill was -4! I noticed several service crews turning around and heading off, so I stopped someone to find out what was going on. Turns out the long stage had been cancelled, so the cars were now heading back to Lawrence to regroup ready to tackle SS35.
I hung around and refuelled the car, and then headed off to try and get into the stage ahead of the rally. Luckily the cancelled stage gave me a little time to move. The corner I stood on was interesting and gave me some up close shots, but it still wasn’t the shot I was really looking for.
The Silver Frond started today as well, which meant more cool cars to shoot. It was a shame for them that the second stage of their event was cancelled, but I guess it couldn’t be helped.
After shooting SS35, it was a mad dash to get to the end of SS38 so I could see the cars again. It felt like a really long drive to get there, and then another reasonable walk into the stage. Again I was surprised just how many people had made the effort to drive and walk so far to spectate. Says a lot about the rally!
Day 7 – Invercargill to Wanaka
Another early start to get ahead of the rally. I decided to try and get into the start of the first stage that day. Luckily it wasn’t too far to walk. The place I chose to shoot from meant I could see the start and then a good section of road until the cars had a fast left hander. I stood shooting the left hander and then could watch them wind up the hill and into the forest. Barry Varcoe saw me waiting with the camera and managed to set the zero car up perfectly for the corner. Great stuff Barry. Unfortunately this stage was the end of Jeff Judd’s rally with an engine failure. Such a shame as it had been awesome to watch him up to this point.
A quick trip up the road to get into Gore in time for the lunchtime service. The rally was running a little late, so I was only able to shoot the front runners through the service area. I wanted to get going again and get into one of the last stages of the day.
I decided on a junction in SS43 where once again I was surprised by the number of people who had made the effort to come and watch, especially as it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.
This turned out to be a great corner to shoot. The drivers were spectacular through here, with bags of commitment. Shane Murland didn’t quite make the corner and shot straight on. Other drivers who gave it heaps were Simon Tysoe, Graham Samuel and Deb Kibble. It was just so good to watch all these classic cars being driven hard and well. I also met a fellow photographer, Neil Howie, who has kindly sent in some of his images which can be seen here.
Day 8 – Wanaka to Queenstown
Last day and what a great start to the day. I got up and headed into Tarras at the junction of Jolly Road. Wow, what a view. It was the shot I’d been looking for all week. The cars would be sliding around an acute right-hander, throwing gravel in front of an amazing hillside with a snow top, all in the lovely morning sunshine. Awesome!! John Spencer in the Nissan and Deb Kibble in her Lancer came in way too fast, and only just managed to get the car around. One thing clear to see, was the smile on Heather’s face. She was grinning from ear to ear and waving. I love the fact this team always has fun. It’s what it’s all about for me!
The next stage had to be cancelled due to poor road conditions, so I headed down to the last public road stage, SS48 – Crawford Hills. Here, I found a cool long sweeping hairpin corner. I decided it would make a great shot if I could use a wide angle and capture the whole corner in one go. I’m quite pleased with how the images came out. Great end to the rally for me.
The cars were off to do a demonstration lap of Highland Motorsport Park. Unfortunately by the time I arrived they were finished and heading back to Queenstown for the official finish line. I decided to head back there and drop bags to the motel and go watch the finish. I only just arrived in time to see our team cross the line. I was so pleased for them to get across the finish and achieve the goal they set out to do – set a time in every stage. There had definitely been some challenges along the way, but Warren and Reece had managed to overcome them all. Great work!
I had the pleasure to finally meet John MacDonald, who hasn’t been so well lately. We had chatted a couple of times via social media etc, so it was great to finally meet in person. He introduced me to his daughter Hannah, who was fund raising for the Cancer Society. She has long blonde hair and is going to be shaving it all off for the cause. I think this is a most generous and brave act. They were collecting from around the finish line. They also attended the evening prize giving, and I believe managed to raise a good chunk of money which is great. However, this young lady is going to be losing her hair, just at the time in her life where fashion and looks are so important. This just goes to show the commitment to the cause she has. As a result, we all need to log into her site and make a donation. Every dollar counts, so please give as much or as little as you can spare.
I started off by saying I’d read the media release claiming this rally to be the “World’s Greatest”.
After having spent a week following it around, and seeing the huge amount of planning and logistics that goes into not only hosting the event, but competing in it as well, I have to agree. It really is the “World’s Greatest Rally,” and I will definitely be back to cover the next one.
Congratulations to every team that made it all the way to the finish. It really is a major accomplishment. I also want to say a huge thank you and well done to every single person that was involved in planning and running the event. You guys did an amazing job!! Thank you.
Most of all I’d like to thank my team, Warren, Reece, Trevor and Andrew. I hope the cooking wasn’t too bad!
Thank you so much for the opportunity Andrew. it was a trip of a lifetime!
Full Gallery here in a few days – taking me a lot longer to edit and resize the images – Sorry