You’ve just done a smooth and fast stage of 46km in 24 minutes at a 115 kph average and others were a bit quicker!
Yes, the Epay (not Ebay) Silver Fern was an 8 day event, starting at Picton at the top of the NZ South Island on a Saturday and finishing in Queenstown the next Saturday afternoon.
Five Aussie crews competed. NSW’s John Hills / Mick Tuckey and son David Hills / Paul Bennett competed in a pair of British built BDAs, and QLD crew John Spencer and veteran Tony Best in an ex works NZ Nissan 240RS. Keith and Maryanne Callinan from Mackay ran their BDA Escort and I ran my BMW 325i with Cate Kelly from QLD telling me where to go (she’s got the gift!).
There’s no pace notes, just blind rallying with the route disclosed before. Some pommy crews print these off as large as possible and use them to describe the corners coming up. Maybe that’s why they crashed occasionally (or regularly in some cases).
Look at the Silver Fern Rally site at the maps and you’ll see it’s a real marathon event. 1,000 plus competitive klms and a few thousand k’s of transport stages; great roads, beautiful scenery and an ideal climate for such an event.
As the BMW now resides on the South Island, Paul Goatley (my mate who fettles it) was crew chief with his young mate Brad and a young American bike mechanic Alex as the other crew. Steve King, a mate from the Gold Coast (alias Carbon Footprint), completed the crew.
We borrowed Derek Ayson’s diesel Ford Transit van and Paul’s Triton ute and car trailer to carry the gear from service points and overnight stops. The overnight stops were in Blenheim, Westport, Christchurch, Timaru, Dunedin, Invercargill, Wanaka and Queenstown. Are you tired yet?
The crews are allowed an hour every night (approx 6pm) to service the cars and put them into park ferme for the night. You can keep your car out for one night during the event without penalty to repair it if necessary.
John Spencer rolled on the last corner of the day going into Dunedin and luckily had the windscreen and panels at a local rally boy’s place. The rally boy, Tony Johnstone and John’s crew repaired it overnight and he held 4th outright from there till the end.
Our BMW had a driveline and suspension failure on day 3 and we repaired it in Christchurch and lost minimal time. Going into Invercargill our brake callipers wore out from rock / stone damage. The boys put it into park ferme without any rears and refitted them on the first transport next morning. We borrowed the calipers from a local rally boy. Isn’t it great getting brake failure at high speed?
The roads got smoother and faster as we went south and tyre wear was minimal as the temp was only 10 – 15 degrees. This is great when you’re in a car warmed by the extractors and mechanicals.
Wearing a driving suit for nearly 12 hours a day is better at these temperatures. Luckily we had great weather with only one or two wet stages.
Co-drivers like Cate had to interpret the tulips and make the calls. Sometimes it was 8 or 10 kms between the calls so it’s up to the driver to frighten the co-driver and keep them awake. With the majority of stages on shire style “Bega” roads, this event is one I’ve now done twice and loved every minute. Those of you who have been to the Otago event will know what I mean.
The field had a huge number of BDA Escorts with about 8 coming from the UK. There was another late model BMW CSL, Toyota Sprinters, Lancer turbo, Honda Civic, Toyota 86 and even a lone old Skoda.
There is another rally event called the Silver Frond that joins the Fern for the last 3 days of competition. It’s the budget event and another 10 competitors joined in . These included VIP pet foods boss Tony Quinn in his BDA Escort. The last stage was held at his Highlands Park racetrack at Cromwell near Queenstown.
Whilst it was not a timed part of the event, it was a good way to scrap four old rally tyres and put on a show for the small crowd of competitors and their crews.
The Silver Fern event was won by Pommy Vince Bristow in one of my friend Bryce Biggs’ BDA rent-a-cars. Our BMW team came 5th in the Challenge category and 2nd in class. It’s just great to finish 8 days of great rallying on NZ roads.
My sincere thanks to my crew – Cate Kelly, Paul Goatley, Brad and Alex, plus Steve King. We’re looking forward to the next one in 2016.
Photos Ally McKay