International motorsport returns to Rotorua, when the epay Silver Fern Rally stops in the city for an overnight break.
The Silver Fern Rally is a marathon event that covers seven days and more than 3000km, including 1000km of high-speed competition stages, bringing 66 competing cars and their supporters through the Rotorua area.
As a biennial event it has so far been held in the South Island, it is now the North Island's turn to show off its challenging gravel roads, many of which have been part of Rally New Zealand and the World Rally Championship in the past. It's an opportunity for the drivers to test themselves on these iconic roads which has attracted a strong international and local field of competitors.
Aimed at Historic and Classic rally cars, this year the event sees competitors from the United Kingdom, Germany, Luxembourg, America, Belgium and Australia lining up against 33 Kiwis. They will be mounted in a variety of cars, stretching from the various incarnations of the Ford Escort, to Porsche 911s, to Alfa Romeos, Mazdas, and Toyotas, with the odd Holden, Honda and Skoda thrown in for good measure.
Christian Kelders from Luxembourg is a former circuit racing champ who has moved over to classic rallying because of the sheer fun he has on gravel events.
His co-driver Stephane Prevot is a current World Rally Championship competitor who has decided not to compete in Spain, but to come to New Zealand instead, because he loves competing on New Zealand roads and marathon rally events.
Although hailing from America, Rhys Millen could be claimed as a Kiwi, being the son of triple New Zealand Rally Champion Rod Millen. Rhys brings with him a Mazda RX7 Group B car, and is looking forward to his first time competing on the gravel roads.
Of the Kiwis the field boasts two former New Zealand champions, in the form of Brian Stokes and Neil Allport. For Allport he has stacked his team with former champion co-driver Robb Ryan. Meanwhile, both the winner and runner-up from the last Silver Fern Rally have entered again, which will see Jeff Judd and Shane Murland continuing their high-speed duel.
Rally chairman Gary Smith is excited by the quality and competitiveness of the entry list. "It will provide some excellent viewing, and bring back memories for many," Smith said.
However the nature of rallying, where the high-speed competition is on the back country roads, means spectators need to be dedicated to go out and watch.
"That is why we have set up the epay zones that allow local people to come and see the cars close up and mingle with the drivers," epay's New Zealand Country manager Roger Smith said. "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 give-aways."
It is a prime opportunity to meet the drivers and take photos. Each car will remain in the epay zone for 10 minutes, and the zone will hold up to 10 cars at any one time as the field comes through to their end-of-day service.
Meaning spectators can meet the drivers and then watch their cars being worked on.
"We have had excellent support from the local community," Rally secretary Paul Smith said.
"From the residents on the roads through to the councils, everyone's assistance in helping to make this endurance adventure happen has been greatly appreciated." The rally starts in Auckland on November 10 before heading through Rotorua, Gisborne, Napier, Feilding, Ohakune, and Taupo, to finish at Hamilton's Claudeland's Events Centre on November 17.
In Rotorua the epay zone will be at the Rotorua Village Green, with the cars starting to arrive from 5pm.