The dust has settled on the 2014 epay Silver Fern Rally, quite literally, and the winners have been found but the eight days of competition saw fortunes ebb and flow for many of the competitors.
While the three section winners who were crowned in Queenstown on Saturday all crossed the line with healthy margins nothing is ever clearcut in marathon rallying.
In the Historic Trophy Vince Bristow/Dean Mitchell became the first international visitors to take the honours beating home fellow Brit Simon Tysoe by more than ten minutes.
However a lot had gone before Bristow arrived in Beach Street, Queenstown. The opening day had belonged to Brent Rawstron/Ian McKee of Christchurch, taking advantage of roads swept clear of gravel by the cars ahead of them. However early the next morning Jeff Judd took over, building a lead over the next three days until the end of Day 4 when Bristow grabbed the initiative. The early stages of Day 5 saw Judd and Bristow just seconds apart and trading stage times before Judd got back in front after the fourth stage of the day. Judd held that lead until Friday morning when he blew a motor, leaving Bristow to endure a nervous day and a half before he sealed victory. Tysoe was second with Shane Murland of Paraparaumu third. Murland had some niggly problems, particularly early on. Another who had problems early on was Brian Stokes, the 2006 Fern winner. Gearbox and clutch issues dogged him but as the week progressed he showed impressive speed. Stokes won his first Special Stage on Day 3 and then won another fourteen over the remaining days to win the most stages in the Historic Section. Judd won ten, Bristow seven, Murland six, Rawstron three and Frank Cunningham of Kenya and Graham Samuel of the UK one apiece.
Three Australians, John Spencer, David Hills and Keith Callinan maintained a steady pace all week to finish fourth, fifth and sixth while seventh was Phil Squires of the UK and eighth Miles McElwain of Hamilton in his Toyota Corolla AE 86 after a fine drive. Scot, Tommy MacKay and Cromwell’s Ian Begg rounded out the top ten.
Kevin Blackley of Palmerston North started the rally by losing his car keys but worked his way up to a very good position only to strike problems before gaining ground again to come home eleventh. Hamilton’s Brad and Stu McFarlane made steady progress in a Porsche and were rewarded with twelfth while Andrew Keighley of Pakuranga was inside the top ten only to have electrical problems drop him back. Otago driver Allan Dippie suffered problems early in the rally but came home strong with several top three stage placings.
In the Challenge Brent Taylor of Cambridge started at a hot pace in his Toyota FT86 and led after the first day. However several incidents and resulting problems cost him dearly and despite winning nineteen of the forty-three stages he finished well down the order. Challenge winner Dave Strong was the first to admit he did not have the pace of some of his rivals but he took the lead on day two and kept on extending it to win by 25 minutes from Brodie Anderson of Dunedin. Charlie Evans of Hamilton was fast but had to come back to third after several delays while Chris Woudenberg, the winner of two stages, eventually retired.
Others to show pace were four-time National Champion, Bruce Herbert of Palmerston North, with twelve stage wins but problems held him back while Garry Adcock lost second place with electrical problems but won four stages. Dermot Martin of Christchurch worked his way into a good placing only to have issues which dropped him down the order again.
Deane Buist made a clean sweep of all fifteen stages in the Silver Frond and had a great run but some of his rivals struck their own problems.
Deborah Kibble of Waimate was running second when there was a fire in her Mitsubishi at the end of day one while Tony Quinn was third the following day when troubles intervened.
At the end of it all those lucky enough to make the finish were full of praise. As the drivers were interviewed at the end of eight days and 1150 kilometres of high speed Special Stages words such as awesome, terrific, great and wonderful were heard frequently along with many assurances that competitors would be back to do it again.