Silverfern Review

Well the Rally started in Picton, on a hot sunny Saturday with two stages out towards Port Underwood – spectacular, but not for us , the poor car had been telling me it was sick since the Rally of the North, in that it was idling fast – fix me fix me but I didn’t read the signs, so off we flew through the dusty winding roads, I wasn’t one with the car, not good when flying around blind corners at great speed. Got through the stage no worries but still not happy. Quick tour and straight into stage 2 car was now hurting at idle – getting sicker! So off we started and car was flat – BLAAA, flat no power, well made the noise but no power, but clean stage. We meet up with the team and it was one intercooler hose that had been leaking, then car had called enough and popped it right off so no boost – just like the big boys! with blown turbo’s. So the team rallied around the car and pulled the front bumper off and found the hose that was fitted was two short, so we replaced it and off we went, but late! It was a long tour to stage 3 but only ended up being 3 minutes late. Managed to slot into our start order. Stage 3 was a blast, fast open and lots of sideways my baby was back! It was happening now!. Stage 4 was cancelled – locals on the stage going white baiting. Next stage was 3 in reverse which was a total blast !! down through the ford again, this is fun yee HA we flew through the stage to be lying 8th overall – yes out of all the rally cars for the whole rally we were 8th. I was aiming to get inside the top 10 during the rally but not on the first day! Even with our dramas so we set some impressive times and did good – Veronica was on fire calling the corners !. The team was settling in for the long haul. All 8 crew and 4 service vehicles. We had a chase car, Fuel Truck (My Hilux with the spare engine, gearbox and diff). Main service van, with all the tools and tyres, then the most important the camper van for the food, which also towed the trailer with the extra tyres and tyre machine.

Day 2. Started with a tight and twisty dusty stage in the forest with a very fast downhill part which sure woke me up, had to keep my concentration up! A real joy of a stage. Started from Blenheim into a long stage following the river, with a few rough fords which had water in them, but the water decided to come into the car via the gearbox so the WATER SHOT UP, HIT THE roof and then drenched the windscreen of the car so we had water on the inside happened three times. In a very fast stage so was a challenge to see !! Wipers just don’t work on the inside! Then moved onto a stage about 150 k from Westport by this stage we where 2nd in rally challenge and 3rd overall, so flying and very happy with the car and its setup all going good – tyre wear was a problem still. Not a problem a disaster, 50k on set of rears wasn’t going to cut it!. When I had 900k to go!. I was keeping the team busy with broken exhausts and other little bits and pieces on the car – but nothing major, car preparation was paying off. Into a 35 k stage was open and fast for the 1st  25 k (this was the turning point for me on two fronts 1st, Front wheel or rear wheel drive, which is right for me – I finally felt I was driving like I use to drive back in my old AE 86 in the late 90’s. I had returned, my style doesn’t suit FWD and think its time to concentrate on racing Rear wheel Drive Rally cars ( plus don’t get as car sick due to the lower G Forces). So about 10k from the end it really tightened up into the dark wet forest.  About 4k from the end we hit a embedded rock in the road and broke the right front lower suspension arm.  We tried to continue and drive out but no, other drivers hit it but it was us that took its toll. Called the crew to come and fix the car. Was a sad way to end day 2 as it was all coming together, everything was working and we where having FUN. Then a 180k tour into Westport and the crew sorted the broken exhaust and extractors. I was told if you are going fast things will wear out and brake. We where going Fast! We carried our own tyre machine so remove the problem on getting tyres changed each night., Another 18 tyres where ordered from Auckland – just in case we needed them. We got a 10 minute penalty for being late which wasn’t too bad so with the maximum stage time for the last stage. That dropped us down into 6th for the Rally Challenge.

Day 3. 150k tour to 1st stage out from Greymouth – Unknown why we didn’t stay in Greymouth!  Maybe the scenic tour for the overseas drivers as it is a lovely part of the world. So a lovely long scenic tour along the coast to near Greymouth. Touring wasn’t too tight today. 1st stage was a blast fast flowing wide open road and more flowing really back it in, just laying the car into the corners !! a joy to drive, I had done it in the past in a Greymouth Rally 6 years back. Stage 3 was a rock heaven and really rough, we won the stage our 1st stage win. Very much tight and tidy and keep it on the road. Like the old days of Rotorua Rally but rougher. We had our first Spin and Stall at an intersection – bugger – need to sort those hand brakes out. There are a couple of links for some incar for the stages from Day 3 on your tube before the Camera Battery went flat – technology for you!. Search for Chris Woudenberg on You tube and you will find them. Then into the 3rd stage for the day which was a repeat of the 1st one in reverse, went 1 second slower, hit a massive boulder (it was huge and getting bigger each time I tell the story). We bent the left rear wheel bugger me – nearly pulled it back but the massive boulder was just too big. But got some good video footage which can be seen on you tube for this stage. Could have done with some more top speed and more power but still had a blast. Was this going to be a sign of roads to come – fast open and flowing. A real stage which you could read the road, with a couple of one lane bridges in there to keep you on your toes.
Then toured over Arthurs Pass with lunch with the kea’s and then into a very slippery, narrow and dusty short blast what a joy. Good stage for us. Really starting to get the hang of the car now, dancing it around those corners – just need longer legs, ie more top speed and more POWER! By this stage the crew where excited and enjoying the ride, all the months of planning and preparation was paying off. Last stage of the day I was really looking forward too but it was cancelled due to locals on the road, what a blessing as we toured through to the ford – which was a river crossing (4WD’s needed to ensure we could get through the river and I thought rally stages had to be passable by 2WD rally cars. Not in this case. – this stage I call the Tanker stage as it rhymes with a word I can’t write – This is NOT a rally stage it may be in years gone by but not now – If I wanted to go off roading and race a 6km straight, I would go and buy a 4WD off roader, but not in a 30 year old classic rally car. Can’t remember how many fords I crossed that had boulders you have to drive over at walking pace (10 probably) – did more damage to my car doing that stage than I had done in my whole rallying career. They must think rocks and boulders are fun, I don’t and never will race that stage again – I would rather take the penalty (and have a coffee) than do such a tanker of a stage !. We raced the last ½, well the others may have I just drove through slowly it was too rough, a total car breaker. Just not needed in our sport. We then toured to service which was in a shopping centre parking space in Christchurch. But with no room oh what a shambles !. Service crew got kicked out before I arrived so ½ the crew wasn’t there. Pity really just shouldn’t have been like that. Especially after paying an extra $700.00 to have extra service crew so they could enter the service parks.

Day 4… Out to banks peninsular very very tight and twisty stages with massive drop offs and cliffs and very technical stages – flew through the 1st stage until 2k from the end and had two spins trying to do hand brake turns at intersections ! More practice needed !. I had spectated this stage many years back in 2008 so had a funny feeling about it, but put that behind me and put the pedal to the metal and drove it. Was a blast Time wise did great. The stages out banks peninsular where tight – need big balls to drive them fast, at one stage flying down this hill all I could see was the deep blue ocean, no road, no bush just ocean out in front of me and it was a long, long way down !!! OMG . First time I felt a little concerned in a rally car. But the last stage of the morning was awesome, put smile back on my dial – but again the tour out was far too tight, no rally should be that tight it is not good for public, hauling along SH1 at 115k just to make the next stage public perception with rally cars passing fast is not good. Just because the organisers think its a good idea we don’t try and service. Time to get real and move into the modern times !! Tthe old days are gone. Motorsport can’t handle the bad publicity. Rally is lumped in with boy racers which is very sad, they just think of us a hoons now. It was 187 k tour which was super tight we hardly went under the speed limit and we got there with 3 mins to spare ! WRONG WRONG on so many levels ! Unknown how the organisers did the timing and kept under the speed limit. Yes I did stop for the toilets once (Bit Hard for Veronica to use a tree) and 4 mins to put new tyres on the car for the next stage. Into a 45k forestry stage oh was a blast tight, technical and very tight. It had it all, up, down and more up and after 38 mins of racing we where second by 2 seconds after again having 2 spins with a stall at two intersections some of them where very tight ! No idea what it is with me and intersections this rally – all with no spectators – thankfully ! . So in the end a very good stage for us, drove it like we stole it. Destroyed a brand new set of Dunlop’s in that stage. Then straight into a 25k stage, The Stage of the rally so far oh what a blast we where flying Veronica was calling the corners like a pro, getting with the program and giving me real confidence and then 5 k from the end we had to stop due to a massive crash. An escort had gone off and was blocking the road. Then into service in Timaru ! First service, where we didn’t have to fix anything major, but we had put the spare on for the final stage of that day after cooking the tyres on the 45k Forestry stage. Spud went to to put the spare back in and the stainless bolt holding it down seized and was bound tight, had to grind it off and now we have a strap holding in the spare ! Not what you need in a middle of a 8 day rally 10 mins before our clock in time for Parc Ferme. Last to leave service park as we had burgers on the BBQ with the setting sun -oh life just doesn’t getting better than this.

Day 5 Best day of the rally – Rain was coming, the morning stages were fast and open with dust, short stages but lots and lots of fun. Was a bit cautious for the first two morning stages but come the 3rd and we were on fire ! Had a moment on a fast section heading towards a one lane bridge and came over the hill flat out and the bridge wasn’t where I was expecting it – it was 200 meters to my right OH s..t but managed to pull it together, across the grass and through the bridge – biggest moment of the rally ! But on we tramped ! Veronica didn’t miss a beat. Took me 30 seconds to pull myself together. Then on the 4th we caught the car in front of us and the push to pass rally safe didn’t work. So we had to follow his dust for the last 10 k, bit of pity as it was a nice clean stage. Drove onto lunch service. At the check in control, the clutch release bearing let go and smoke was pouring from under the bonnet, it was hard to even start the car ! It was squealing like a stuff pig. Into the service park and the team pulled the gearbox out , replaced the bearing and put the gear box back in. All in under 37 mins total, from in to out of service – impressive as we hadn’t practiced that. So only got 12 mins lateness a superb job. Actually made it too the start line for us to start at our normal position but wasn’t allowed to. This stage was Danseys Pass oh what a blast we had to do a superman start from getting our card back to starting took 25 secs ! We jumped in front of 4 cars and started in front of Car 22 Andrew and Martin, our friends and started behind Charlie Evans. Long stage and got very close to him by the end only 20 secs behind him, dust wasn’t too much of a problem so lucky not to be too far down the start order ! That stage was a clean fast stage nice and tidy and smooth a real rally stage!. I was so excited to be doing that stage – was on my Rally bucket list of a must do rally stages and it exceeded my expectations. Some good in car for that stage on You Tube. Last stage of the day and the rain came, a short 15 k stage fast, wet in the forest but the car performed well and we flew through it no worries, lovely stage rutted and pot holes. Car was bouncing around a lot, but kept our foot up it and drove it with a big smile on my face – Veronica called the corners, still like a pro, gave me even more confidence, think only one mistake for a intersection over the whole rally so far from hundreds so a impressive job! This stage reminded me of days gone by in Maramarua Forest. Back to Dunedin and our one hour service. In a Mitre 10 Car park, but this time we knew it was going to be tight so we serviced outside the service park on the road side, under a trucking companies canopy. We had to change the right lower ball joint – which we had just put in – from the day 2 accident. Only thing we needed to do was clean the car and put in the extra special 15 litre fuel tank for the long 105 stage the next day. Managed to have time to give the car a good wash -just!.

Day 6 Had rained over night and was raining lightly as we left Dunedin onto our first stages, But damn it the dust was still there. Everything was feeling good, had two nice stages to start morning but the 105k monster was cancelled due to snow! Yes snow which was a real disappointment for me as that was the stage I had trained all year for as well as making a 15 litre extra fuel tank just for that stage !. It was the rally car engineering feat of 2014 and may never get used in anger – bugger. With the morning stages, the corners where disappearing and the straights where getting longer and the tyres lasting longer, the poor car was getting pushed, maxing out at around 160 kph mark. A lot of the cars where doing around 200 kPh if not more!. Stage 37, wet start, some rain but what a blast. Had to keep the corner speed up. Then we lined up for stage 38 a 55 k stage, so all was good and this was going to be a fast stage. Then it all came undone at the 14k mark, we left the road backwards and hit a massive boulder which pushed us into the air as we hit the fence and landed on the right hand side in the muddy paddock. It was a massive hit as the in-car shows which can be found on you tube!. Just as the car righted itself we had people seeing if we where okay – the local farmers had setup to watch this particular corner, as other cars had gone off on the same corner in past rallies!. So they towed us back onto the road along 1k of muddy paddock and covered the car in MUD !! oh what a mess. But we where okay, the team turned up and took the car back into Invercargill and cleaned it and removed all the broken glass and removed everything removable from the car just in case it could be repaired but no! The cage was bent from the boulder and can’t fix that ! Car is dead – long live the AE86. that only had ONE did not finish in over stage 150 starts! And in excess of 3000k’s of racing!. Thanks to Jesco Hydraulics for the use of their workshop to sort the car that night. So we packed the tyres and sent them back to Christchurch to meet our container for Monday. We continued onto Wanaka and the Rally Finish in Queenstown. The Rally was a great success for us, car was fantastic we won some stages and day 3 and 4 we where 2nd for the Challenge rally and I believe 3rd overall so we got onto the pace quickly even with the problems we where having. Which where very minor in the scheme of things. The car couldn’t match the top speed of some of the front runners but on the tight and twisty stages we held our own and the longer the stage the better we went – so all the training paid off as you can see in the videos very calm inside the car and no slowing down even after 30 mins of racing. Rally fitness is so important. Disappointing not to finish but we have an opportunity to start with a blank sheet of paper and build another car. It will still be the same model car, but maybe with a different engine with some more power.

Doing such a Marathon event like this can’t be done without a team surrounding us. Veronica for being so calm in the car and giving me a lot of confidence. You did good Girl, Thanks for riding with me. Grumble thanks for all those Wednesday man cave nights and that plotting and rally planning, Thanks for doing the cooking during the fern for all the team – Plus getting dirty and fixing stuff and just doing stuff each and every day. All very much appreciated. Greg – Well when Veronica gave me that condition that you had to come on the rally as well, I had no idea you would be such an asset to the team and again just getting stuff done and for really getting with the program – thank you. Thanks for your management skills. Daryn, thanks for coming and taking ownership of the Service van and just keeping it tidy, your rally knowledge did come in handy. Dan – Sorry the car just was to big for even you to fix, but thanks for again being part of a team and getting into the mix of it. You never looked idle. Mike – for looking after the Fuel truck and driving those 4000 k’s in the Hilux – thank you for doing the little things I didn’t see. Spud- The newest member of the Team, Your knowledge and passion was a great asset, you where calm at all times and never gave up. Your energy drove the team – Thank you. I sure you will agree 2WD is best !. Kirsty – for being our Auckland based person to handle the logistics and sorting the extra tyres, trolley jack and all those other little bits we needed. Thanks For co-ordinating the team when we crashed and again like everyone getting with the program. Plus taking care of CPS while I wasn’t there and doing your job as well as mine!. Many thanks. Kayne and Bert for your technical advice leading up the rally – thanks everything helped. It is a great car. Last and not least my Fiancé Melanie for your understanding leading up to this massive undertaking. Without your support back home I wouldn’t be able to rally. Sorry for flying off the road just before you flew down to see me rally. And putting you through the stress of me doing my passion. Plus its you that has to pick up the pieces as the days go by as I come down from such a high. Forever grateful. I think what impressed me the most is how a bunch of volunteers use a week of their annual leave to come on a rally so I can have fun. Doing whatever it took to keep the car going. The above bunch of people where amazing and each and every one just did stuff – things just got fixed, replaced and appeared – it made for me being able to just concentrate on one thing – Driving the pants off it ! Which we did, Yes we pushed hard and set some damn good stage times along the way – Each and everyone of you can be proud of the efforts you put into the rally for Veronica and I. I can’t do it without you. I thank you again. Look forward in doing the 2016 event with you. I also wish to thank all the volunteers that helped to make such an event happen!.

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