ESCORTS ON TOP AFTER SILVER FERN RALLY'S TOUGH THIRD DAY
Southern men Derek Ayson and Gavin McDermott helped make history in their Nissan FJ20-engined Mk 11 Ford Escort on the third day of the 2016 New Zealand Silver Fern in and around Dunedin and West Otago today.
On the first two days of this year's marathon seven-day revival event from Christchurch to Gore and return, the pair - from Gore - played second fiddle in the Challenge division (for later model or modified classic rally cars) to the contemporary Honda Civic Type R of Aucklanders Dave Strong and Rob Scott.
But today, on roads familiar to him, Ayson took the lead in the Challenge division, meaning - in a unique event twist - Mk 11 Ford Escorts now lead both the Historic AND Challenge divisions.
The day saw the 40-plus competitors in the biennial gravel event leave parc ferme at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium at 8.00am to contest another seven stages, including the marathon 50.97km Makkinen one from Manuka Creek near Milton to Lake Mahinerangi then Lawrence.
After a storming run through similar long, fast stages in Tuesday, Canterbury ace Brian Stokes and wife Anne took the overall event lead in their Historic category-spec Mk11 Ford Escort. But they had slipped back down the order to 19th at day's end after losing 18 minutes repairing a rear axle bent on the Makkinen stage.
In their place at the top of the overall event leader-board came the similar Historic-spec Ford-engined Ford Escort RS 1800s of Kiwi rally veteran Shane Murland and co-driver John Benton, highly-rated Welsh pair Meirion Evans and Lestyn Williams, and Australians Stewart Reid and Dave Neill.
Murland and Benton won the day from Reid and Neill, Evans and Williams and defending event title holder Vince Bristow and his co-driver Tim Sayer. But issues on the first and second days meant that Murland and Benton, and Bristow and Sayer are still not back in overall contention.
That left the quick and consistent Evans and Williams to take over the mantle of event leaders ahead of Yorkshiremen Matthew Robinson and Sam Collis in Robinson's newly built Fiat 131R with Reid and Neill third ahead of fellow Aussies Keith and Mary-Anne Callinan in their Ford Escort RS1800 and now Dunedin-based expat John Spencer (with Kiwi co-driver Dean McCrostie) in a Datsun 1600.
There is little in it at the front of the field though with just over three minutes separating Evans and Williams from Spencer and McCrostie with four more days of the event yet to run.
Day winner of the Challenge category was another modified historic car, the Mitsubishi Lancer EX Turbo of former National champion Bruce Herbert and Paul Hey from Palmerston North.
Bruce Herbert and co-driver Jim Hey in Herbert's #34 Mitsubishi Lancer EX Turbo. Photo / ProShotz
They topped the time sheets in four of the seven stages (against a win-apiece for Ayson, Strong and Toyota 86 pair Brent Taylor and Chris Ramsey) but having blown a diff earlier in the event and taken a time penalty to fix it the Mitsi pair are back in 11th place in the Challenge category event classification.
Tomorrow the Silver Fern Rally heads south from Forsyth Barr Stadium for stages in south and west Otago and Eastern Southland before an overnight stop in Gore.