Fords to the fore
If you were a gambler, you wouldn't get very long odds on a Ford Escort winning the week long epay Silver Fern marathon rally which starts in Christchurch this Sunday.
Half the field, including nine of the top ten seeded drivers are using various versions of the ubiquitous Ford in the event for historic rally cars which finishes in Queenstown on Saturday 20 November.
The most popular two wheel drive rally car of the 1970s and the early '80s before 4WD cars came to the fore is still the most popular car in historic events.
South African Geoff Bell in an Escort RS1800 will lead the field away from the Cathedral Square start. This year he has already finished third in both the Portugal and Morocco historic events. He will be followed by local Christchurch driver Jeff Judd who was a front runner two years ago until he was slowed by mechanical problems.
Englishman Simon Tysoe is third away in another RS1800, having risen to the top echelon of historic rallying in Britain in a relatively short time. Wellington's Shane Murland is the fourth seed and was a top local competitor in the halcyon days of two wheel drive rallying.
Australian double champion in 1981 and '82, Geoff Portman is the only non Escort driver in the top ten, starting fifth in a Holden Commodore. Since his comeback to the sport across the Tasman he has won events against much more modern machinery.
Apart from the Historic event for cars manufactured before 1986, there is also another event running alongside it for vehicles with greater modifications.
Christchurch's Brian Stokes, the 1985 national champion, who won the inaugural Silver Fern Rally in 2006, is the top seed in an Escort with a 2.5 litre motor and six speed sequential gearbox, technology that he did not have in his 1985 championship winning car!
His closest competition is likely to come from the Mazda RX7 of Andrew Hawkeswood and Deane Buist in another Escort.
While the event is about speed on the closed road special stages, it is also about endurance. Drivers will face 1060 kms of stages over the seven days - much longer than any modern World Rally Championship event.
And several of the stages are much longer too, including a 100 kms monster from Millers Flat on the Clutha River up into Central Otago over the Lammerlaw Range and down the Old Dunstan Rd.
Twenty of the 55 competing crews are from Australia, Britain, Austria and South Africa.