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The opening day of the epay Silver Fern Rally has proved to be eventful, despite it being the shortest and possibly easiest day of the 7. Leading overall are the Silver Fern Challenge cars of Dave Strong, followed closely by Brent Taylor, and Brian Stokes. First of the Historic Trophy teams is Jeff Judd, only 39 seconds off Strong and 15sec off Stokes.

Unfortunately for Kingsley Jones and Keith Callinan their rally was almost over before it began. Both struck problems in the first stage. Callinan broke a propshaft on the start line, while Jones only made it 1km before he dropped a huge amount of oil. Jones made running repairs and returned to contest the last stage of the day, while Callinin is hoping to restart tomorrow.

Meanwhile at the front of the field, there has been a battle raging for first day honours. No taking it easy to preserve the machinery for 7 days of hard driving, the gloves were off and only seconds are separating the top runners.

As expected Jeff Judd has put in a fine performance and won half of the days 8 stages and take a 32 second lead in the Historic Trophy. However he had to work hard for it. Going into the service stop in Tauranga Judd was in a dead heat for first with Englishman Vince Bristow. Meanwhile Neil Allport has been nipping at his heels, staying within 5 seconds of Judd for most of the day, except for the last test where he lost 30 seconds. Dean Buist put in a fast time on the last stage to jump into second place, pushing Allport back to third, with Bristow now in fourth. Rounding out the top five is Geoff Portman from Australia, as only 4 seconds separate 2nd to 5th.

As a 3 time NZ Rally champion Allport is certainly showing his talent after all of these years. Many will remember that he won his Gold Stars in a Mazda RX7 and 323, while here he is driving an older MkI 1600cc Escort. All of the others in the Historic Trophy top 10 are running 1800cc MkII versions of the famous rally car, meaning that any perceived disadvantage in machinery isn’t holding Allport back.

In the Silver Fern Challenge category Dave Strong (Civic Type R) and Brent Taylor (Corolla) have equally been having their own battle. Swapping stage times throughout the day meant a swapping of the lead as well. They too went into the Tauranga service stop tied for the lead. Then the fight into Rotorua saw Strong gain an 8 second lead over Taylor at day’s end, with Brian Stokes third, and even then he is only 24sec off the lead.

Andrew Shrimpton had taken an early lead in the Silver Frond 3 day event. However a broken driveshaft put pay to his challenge and that left James Hewlett in yet another Escort to take a comfortable lead over Stuart McFarlane in his Porsche 911. Third is Trevor Taylor who has swapped his usual mount of a Mitsubishi Evo 10 to a 15 year old two wheel drive Mirage RS.

With all of the teams now resting in Rotorua, tomorrow (Monday) will see the crews tackle a swathe of iconic rally stages made famous by Rally New Zealand and the World Rally Championship in the 1980s and 90s. Manawahe, Rakauroa, Whakarau, and the mighty 44km of the Motu will provide a tough test as the drivers compete over 135km and six special stages.

A mid day service at Albert Park in Opotiki will allow the towns people to get out and see the cars before they head into the Motu, and on to Gisborne.

The epay Zone in Gisboprne will be at Gisborne Railway Reserve from 4:50pm, allowing people to see the cars up close and mingle with the drivers as they head into the end of day service. There will be a commentary and driver interviews, along with the latest end of day results. epay will also have event merchandise on sale and there will be giveaways.

More information on where you can see the rally is available at www.silverfernrally.co.nz.  Full results are available on www.chrissport.co.nz

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