Silverfern Preview

Well the greatest Rally this planet has seen, starts in less than a week, 1100K’s of rallying on gravel roads around the South Island of New Zealand. The 1100 kilometers is broken into 49 Special stages that vary in length from 10k’s to the monster which is 108km long. Which will take us over an hour to race through. So the fitness of the driver is just as important as fuel in the Car. Underestimated by many.

The preparation for such a rallying marathon started over 12 months ago. To prepare the car and team to tackle such an event. Going over the car checking every piece and making changes as necessary. Ordering new parts as needed or trying to find second hand parts where new isn’t a option.

The Rally will start at Midday This coming Saturday the 8th of November from Picton with a few short gravel stages south of Blenheim. This day is to group the rallying into some sort of speed order, in Rallying with the dust you don’t want to be catching the car in front. We leave at 1 minute intervals, a slight difference in car speeds over a 40 k stage can be the difference of a clean stage or not a clean stage. This year for the first time, the Rally Safe system is being employed which is a GPS based electronic safety monitoring system, which allows us to let the car in front know we are behind and want to over take. Also if we crash or stop, Rally headquarters is notified so help can be organized. Very new technology which will transform rallying and just makes it a little more safer. They live track each car throughout the day – No deviating from the marked route.

Day Two Starts from Blenheim and heads over to the lovely West Coast for a stop in Westport for the night , with some spectacular stages around Westport, which I have tackled a few years back in my Front Wheel Drive rally car. This year I’m using my 30 year old Toyota Rear Wheel Drive AE86 hatch back, so more backing it in- which means, driving it on the throttle and going sideways around the corners, a bit like drifting (but more Talent Required) but unlike those boys we don’t know what is around the corner. We don’t drive the road before hand, nor do we have any form of pace notes or instructions. So a real race requiring real talent. Yes the roads we drive at speed are closed to other traffic. They can be any surface, gravel, mud, rocks, tarmac, or a combination of all four. We race the road blind, we have no idea what the road will throw at us – we drive it as we see it. Which is very different than the rallying you see on TV – those guys get to drive the roads a few times before to write detailed instructions for each and every corner and straight. Then drive them again to perfect them. We have non of that. Which can be a challenge sometimes when approaching brows and going down hills as you are not sure what is over the hill so you drive as you see it and take your own risks as you see fit. So you are at one with the road and very aware of what is happening with the road around you.

As I said my car is a Toyota AE 86 Classic Rally car running a supercharged engine from a more modern FWD Corolla or MR2. Gives it a little more power, but very good drivability and too not stressed , which is the perfect formula for a endurance event such is the Silverfern. The car is built to last, having a heavy duty gearbox, heavy duty suspension, standard brakes ( as those slow you down so don’t need to do anything with them). Inside the car we have a full roll cage for protection. 6 point race harness to keep us in our seats, yes our seats, so I have co-driver which in my case calls each and every corner for me as she sees it – Veronica is her name and has only done two full rallies with me so far. But has settled into the job extremely well, replacing my long term Co-Driver Diana, who retired after 7+ years with me. As the Co-driver isn’t reading notes on the Silverfern, I have Veronica calling the road as she sees it – which is unusual, Left, opens, Faster, Tightens, Right, Go Go and so on. I just add it to what I see and if she makes a mistake ( and they do occasionally) I just go with what I believe is happening. At the end of the day I’m the one with the Steering wheel in my hands and my feet dancing over the peddles, so the buck stops there!. A lot of drivers don’t like this style of navigating – they find it distracting, but I see it as an advantage and also they are not just a dumb weight sitting next to me enjoying the ride. Also the co-driver has the responsibility to navigate us around the country side, so we get to the starts and service areas on time. As rallying is point to point timing, when we start a stage we are given the start time for the next stage, so the time difference between the two allows us to complete the special stage at race pace, then maybe service the car ( ie Fuel us up, check and maybe change tyres) and then drive on open public roads with other cars at normal speeds to the next start line. So the car is fully warranted and registered, completely road legal.

Day 3 we leave Westport and head over the Arthurs pass and down into Christchurch, this continues down to Timaru , then onto Dunedin over day 4 and day 5, day six will be stopping in Invercargil and then Wanaka and finishing in the lovely Queenstown for day 8. By that time I should have driven over 1100 k’s of special stages (racing hard out on gravel roads) , 2800 touring to get to those 1100 k’s all in the space of 8 days.

Our first goal is to finish, so far this car has a 100% finishing record over the last 4 years in over 2500 k worth of Special stages. So the car has proven itself its now just up to Veronica and I to keep on the straight and narrow. We have this 100% finishing record to uphold. A lot of work has gone into preparation for this event. We have a 3 car team following us over the 8 days, One is a chase car which tries to meet us at the end of each stage, Another carrying Fuel and the heavy spares, like gearbox, Engine, and diff. And the other carries all the tools and the consumables. Plus the 50 or so tyres we expect to use over the 8 days. Then the third vehicle is a camper van which is our cook, Yes as there is 8 people in total in the team. We take a camper, which has a dual purpose, food and shelter if is rains. It worked a treat for the team back in 2012, The envy of many a team back then, as the lunch spread was rolled out at each lunch stop. ! Then when it rained we just sat inside and watched the rest get wet.

This time since we finish so far from where we start we are also taking the Car Trailer which is going to carry most of the tyres and our tyre machine. So we become totally self sufficient. Plus we have nearly a complete car broken down as spares. The only things we don’t take is a shell and the rear hatch – we take the rest, Doors, Guards, Suspension, Engine, Gearbox , steering, Brakes, computer. The list goes on, boxes upon boxes.

We packed it all into a 40 foot container and shipped it down to Christchurch. We then unpack, and re pack into the service vehicles for the drive North to Blenheim.

So as you can see this is a massive undertaking and is a logistical nightmare , but some how it all comes together for our team and the other 55 cars doing what I’m doing next week.

For more details on the Silverfern and to follow us during next week click on the link below.

Full running results can be found here

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