British pairing Vince Bristow/Dean Mitchell have taken over the lead of the 2014 epay Silver Fern Rally with just one day and five Special Stages remaining tomorrow. Jeff Judd and Mark Smith’s reign in the lead ended when their Ford Escort blew a motor early this morning as the event took in six Special Stages between Invercargill and Wanaka today.
That was the end of the rally for the crew from Christchurch after they had led for the bulk of the event. Bristow also had a scare today when a plug lead came off his Ford Escort on the third stage of the day necessitating a stop which lost him some time. While Bristow will carry an almost ten minute lead into tomorrow’s final day he summed it up perfectly when he said “anything can happen in the Silver Fern!”
For his part Judd was “gutted”. “It has been an awesome week and with just a day and a half to go it is hard to take. We have had an awesome time and it has been awesome competition.”
Every day this marathon rally has provided drama and uncertainty and today was no different. Competitor and Chairman of the rally Gary Smith of Hamilton was a non starter this morning while Peter Egerton/Alun Cook of the UK were in trouble in the first stage of the day. As the day progressed other Historic Trophy competitors hit trouble. Iain Freestone of Kenya had mechanical problems and top kiwi Brian Stokes had a spin and a resulting loss of time in the middle of the day. UK driver Richard Arrowsmith rejoined the rally this morning after illness took him out for the last two days but he stopped in a stage late in the day also.
Graham Samuels/Preston Ayres of the UK also stopped after winning their first Special Stage of the event this morning.
At the end of a rally defining day Bristow led into Wanaka ahead of fellow Brit Simon Tysoe with kiwi Shane Murland moving into third place today. Three Australians fill the next three places with John Spencer, David Hills and Keith Callinan rounding out the top six.
Otago drivers were going well in the Historic Trophy Section today with Allan Dippie/Paul Coghill setting a string of top three times in the ex-Willie Rutherford Porsche while Ian Begg/Jeremy Begg of Cromwell ended the day tenth overall.
Meanwhile in the Challenge Section Dave Strong/Rob Scott of Auckland carried on their merry way in their Honda Civic R extending their overnight lead to 23 minutes 37 seconds today. Dunedin duo Brodie Anderson/Rob McConachie are second while Charlie Evans/Sue O’Neil of Hamilton have climbed back up to third in their Honda Integra to be ahead of Jacob Scannell of the UK, Aussie Ed Mulligan and Bruce Herbert.
Chris Woudenberg of Auckland withdrew from the Challenge this morning due to accident damage.
Deane Buist/Andrew Bulman of Christchurch have won every stage in their Ford Escort since the Silver Frond joined the event in Dunedin yesterday morning to lead by 12 minutes 38 seconds tonight but behind them the Silver Frond competitors were not immune to some of the mishaps befalling those who have been rallying the entire week.
Tony Quinn/Andrew Graves were third until stopping twice in the fourth stage of the day while Upper Hutt driver Tony Aimers had a continuation of brake problems before blowing a head gasket later in the day.
Invercargill teenager George Keast broke a driveshaft off the startline of today’s second stage after working late last night to repair damage caused by overheating the day before. Southlander’s Jim McDonald of Gore and Gavin Read also struck issues late in the day before retiring in the final stage.
Ashton Wood/Fred Merkin of Upper Moutere are still second in the Silver Frond with a day to go, ahead of Garry Cliff/James Cowles of Christchurch in a Datsun 160J, Kevin Lynch of Greymouth, Nigel Barclay of Christchurch and James/Tony Hewlett.
Tomorrow is the final day of the event and in Vince Bristow’s words “anything can happen.” There will be no one supremely confident of making it to the finish of this gruelling event until they actually cross the finish line in Beach Street Queenstown from 3.15pm onwards tomorrow. The first car leaves the Lonestar Wanaka at 8.30am with stages at Tarras, Thompson Gorge and St Bathans Downs before a Service Park in Omakau at 11.45am. Then it is a stage at Crawford Hills and five laps of the Highlands Motorsport Park at 2.00pm before the 3.15pm finish in Queenstown.
Spectators wishing to follow the rally can find maps on the event website www.silverfernrally.co.nz