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The penultimate day of the epay Silver Fern Rally was another test of man and machine, as the competitors traversed 6 special stages, making their way from Ohakune to Taupo, via Taumaranui and Ohura. The 76km Waitewhena stage was the longest stage of the entire rally, but it only made up 41% of today’s 185km of gravel bashing.

After only a few minor incidents in the morning, a theme for the event is starting to emerge as all of the action started in the afternoon stages.

In the Silver Fern Historic Trophy it was Neil Allport in the Mk1 Escort who had the better of the Mk2 pack, winning the day by over a minute on everyone else. However his march back up the leader board today was courtesy of a Shane Murland error.

With Murland sitting nicely in second, despite his earlier dramas, any hope of a repeat podium finish was well and truly dashed when he left the road and went tree hugging. The resulting damage saw him sidelined for the rest of the day. The other major casualty was Kevin Blackley, who had been in fourth. A very determined drive had seen him even managing to pull away from Jeff Judd, who had only been 7sec behind. However that turn of speed petered out in the last stage, with engine problems stopping Blackley in his tracks.

The result being a slightly modified leader board. Deane Buist was feeling a lot better today, after becoming ill yesterday, and he continues to lead with almost a 12min advantage over Grant Shand. Neil Allport has gone from as high as second on Day 2, down to 12th on Day 3, and has battled back to be third at the end of Day 6. All be it still 4mins behind Shand.

Jeff Judd has mirrored Allport’s effort, going from first to 13th, and he now sits in fourth. However a podium is only a possibility if others strike problems, being that he is 9mins off third. Meanwhile Vince Bristow has managed to pop back into the top 5 after his trouble free run today.

The Silver Fern Challenge has been steady as she goes, with Brent Taylor driving to survive and retain his lead. Leigh Marston continues to prove that a Ford is still a good rally car, with a trouble free run with the new Fiesta R2, while Ed Mulligan in the much older Mk2 Escort features in third. This is after Donald McPherson struck trouble for the first time in the event and he continued to lose time all day, dropping to fourth in the process.

With the teams now soaking up the picture postcard views on the Taupo lake front, thoughts are turning to the final 128km of competition, and how to survive the final push for the finish line. Almost all competitors now appear to be driving to survive, most nursing some form of niggle or bruising from the past 6 days of hard out competition.

Rally Secretary Paul Smith commented early on that no one looked to be treating this event as a marathon. The pace was blistering hot to begin with, just as you would see in any other one or two day event. Looking at the teams now shows what 6 days of hard driving does to car and crew.

The final day sees the gravel lead the teams from Taupo to Mangakino, Waitomo, Kawhia, and Pirongia, over 128km of special stages. The official finish line, and epay zone is at the Claudelands Events Centre in Hamilton, from about 3:00pm. It will be the last opportunity to see this fantastic array of classic, historic, and modern rally cars in one place at one time, and mingle with the drivers as they share their war stories and enjoy the camaraderie that comes for such an epic adventure.
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