Jeff Judd/Mark Smith have retaken the lead of the Historic Trophy Section in the 2014 epay Silver Fern Rally on Day 5 of the event as the cars made their way from Timaru to Dunedin via seven Special Stages today.
British combination Vince Bristow/Dean Mitchell had grabbed the lead the previous night after Judd of Christchurch had seen his margin eroded during Day 4 as he acted as a sweeper on roads thick with gravel.
However today as the day progressed Judd and Bristow battled it out for the lead with just seconds in it after four and a half days of rallying.
Bristow clung to a slender lead over the first three stages of the morning before Judd hit the front by 1.6 seconds on the fourth of the day before extending that to 50.8 seconds at the end of the final stage at Silverpeaks, north of Dunedin this afternoon.
The battle at the front of the field belied the fact that this is an eight day marathon rally.
Another British driver Simon Tysoe along with co-driver Craig Dolman is third while John Spencer/Tony Best of Australia (Nissan 240RS), Shane Murland/John Benton of Paraparaumu and David Hills/Paul Bennett of Australia round out the top six.
Former dual national rally champion Brian Stokes of Waikuku had a great today with four stage wins in succession early in the day followed by another later in the afternoon.
Keith Stewart of Palmerston North and Campbell Wright of Taumaranui both struck problems in early stages today while British driver Richard Arrowsmith was taken to Timaru Hospital for a check up after feeling unwell early in the day. Day 1 leader Brent Rawstron of Christchurch had already retired his Escort due to a broken tie rod sustained on the final stage of Day 4 yesterday.
Meanwhile Dave Strong and Rob Scott of Auckland (Honda Civic R) maintain their lead in the Challenge Section of the event by almost three minutes from Garry Adcock/Mark Dalton of Nelson in a BMW M3 CSL with Dunedin duo Brodie Anderson/Rob McConachie third in their Ford Escort as they arrived in Dunedin tonight.
While the top three have all consolidated their positions in the Challenge Section, Brent Taylor/Chris Ramsay of Cambridge in their Toyota FT86 were scorching through today’s stages, winning five of them.
However the duo are out of contention after several problems earlier in the event.
Competitors contested a stage named Andrew’s Playground in the MacKenzie Country this morning remembering 2008 Silver Fern winner Andrew Grundy.
Grundy who passed away in 2013 grew up in the area. Later in the day the drivers even sighted light snow flurries on the iconic Danseys Pass Stage.
Tomorrow (Friday) the cars leave Mitre 10 Mega in Dunedin at 7.30am and after three stages take a service break at Clutha Valley School at Greenfield. Three more stages follow after lunch before the cars arrive at the Ascot Park Hotel in Invercargill for their overnight stop at 4.50pm. Competitors in the Silver Frond event join the field tomorrow for the final three days which take the cars to Invercargill, Wanaka and to the finish in Beach Street, Queenstown at 3.15pm on Saturday.
Spectators wanting to follow the event can find rally maps on the event website www.silverfernrally.co.nz