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After 1000km of competition, 43 special stages, and 7 days on the road, it still came down to a hard fought last day to determine the winners on this year’s event.

Deane Buist is a very delighted Cantabrian, after he had to overcome illness on days 5 and 6 in order to win the epay Silver Fern Historic Trophy, where unusually the car probably ran better than the driver did.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to do another day”, said Buist at the finish. “There is only one way to go when you are leading, so we drove just fast enough to stay competitive. It is a fantastic result for us, the car ran perfectly, and I didn’t want to let the boys in the crew down.”

However it was the somewhat surprised Australian of Ed Mulligan who has won the epay Silver Fern Challenge, for cars that are modified or otherwise don’t meet the Historic requirements. Having jumped from third overnight, after a drama filled last few stages, his win makes it a Ford Escort quinella over the two events.

Despite his lead in the Historic Trophy Buist wasn’t exactly driving just to survive, as he kept pace with the fastest times of the day. Neil Allport certainly wasn’t slowing down either and he again was the fastest of the day. However the pressure got to Grant Shand. A comfortable second placing was in sight until an error on today’s rain soaked stages saw Shand flying off the road and off the podium.

With Allport only suffering one minor off in the event and then winning 3 legs outright, despite being in the older 1600cc Mk1 Escort, he showed he hasn’t lost any of his talents from when he won three New Zealand Rally Championships. Fighting back to collect a very well disserved second place.

Hovering just outside the top 5 all event was Australian driver David Hills. His consistency has seen him rewarded with third after Shand, Jeff Judd, and Vince Bristow all found a sting in the tail of the rally.

A previous winner of the Silver Fern, unfortunately for Judd this time just wasn’t his event. After leading on the first day he suffered a number of issues and fought back each time, only for the steering linkages on his Escort break in the penultimate stage. However fourth is a testament to his tenacity to keep going no matter what happens.

Rounding out the top 5 is Belgian driver Christophe Jacob. Starting out 14th at the end of Day 1, he steadily improved each day, and was able to capitalise when others around him faltered. A very good result for the first time visitor to our roads.

With the mighty Ford Escort being the weapon of choice at this year’s event, it was an all Escort leader board. The honour of the first non Escort in the Historic Trophy goes to 10th placed Tony Aimers in his Fiat 131R.

The biggest dramas of the day, and ultimately of the Silver Fern Challenge, were witnessed when Brent Taylor watched his rally roll away with the wheel that parted company from his Corolla. A massive 22min lead, and a highly dedicated crew who managed to do an engine change within an hour at yesterdays end of day service just wasn’t enough in the end. However a fourth is some reward for his efforts.

Taylor’s demise left Leigh Marston in a Ford dual with Ed Mulligan, but the Fiesta R2 wasn’t to be in the lead for long. A slow time by Marston on the very last stage allowed Mulligan to take the lead, finishing a mere 27sec in front, for one of the closest finishes in Silver Fern history. The modern Ford having to settle for second behind the classic Ford.

But the dramas didn’t finish there. Dave Strong was another to fight back after gearbox problems on Day Two and Three. Having worked his way into 4th was a fine effort, and with Taylor’s demise he was looking at third. That was until Strong also succumbed to the last stage when his driveshaft broke. This double whammy promoted Donald McPherson and his Pulsar into third, with Taylor now in fourth as a result of his time penalties.

Rounding out the top 5 in the Challenge was a resurgent Brian Stokes. Despite winning 5 of the 7 legs, his off road excursion on Day 5 cost him dearly and he wasn’t able to recover the hour of time he lost in the process.

With the big country of the South Island on previous events, many wouldn’t have anticipated just how challenging the route for this year would be. The vast majority of the roads weren’t rough, but they were technically challenging with the twisty back country that predominates parts of the North Island. When coupled with the biggest and toughest days being in the latter half of the event, the epay Silver Fern Rally this year became an effort of determination and stamina for mind, body, and machinery.

Rally Secretary Paul Smith is delighted with the event and the support received from so many quarters. “We really appreciate the generosity from all of the volunteers, councils, local communities, residents on the roads, and everyone who has a hand in making this such a fantastic event”, says Paul. “Their combined time and effort has all helped to make this event a wonderful success. The organising committee thanks them all.”

With the epay Silver Fern Rally run bi-annually the next one will be in 2014. Meaning there is plenty of time to formulate the next challenging route to allow the classic and historic rally cars to be used in the manner they were built for.

Full results are available on www.chrissport.co.nz
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