Four months of preparation has set up Palmerston North rally driver Kevin Blackley for the upcoming Silver Fern Rally.
Blackley, owner of Blackley Construction, has essentially rebuilt his 1975 Mark 2 Ford Escort RS1800 from bumper to bumper to get it in top shape for the 3100-kilometre ordeal.
"We've taken it apart and checked everything," he said. "It has a new suspension, we've crack-tested the shocks and reconditioned the engine to give it more torque at lower revs."
Blackley and co-driver Rodney Christensen have also been hitting the gym, ensuring they are ready for the seven-day endurance event.
"Rodney's been getting fit and I've been working on my aerobic fitness by getting on the bike.
"There are a couple of stages over 70 kilometres long, so it's important to be in good shape and keep your concentration throughout."
The pair will compete in the rally for the first time but despite having about 70 years motor-racing experience between them, it will be tough to take out the top honours.
Blackley said their budget of $40,000 would struggle to compete with the top drivers', but they are aiming to stay close to the top of the field.
The two-time Targa Rally competitor will be driving one of 18 Ford Escort RS1800s in the historic trophy class, where cars manufactured before 1986 with stock configurations battle it out.
Blackley said with so many identical cars in the race, it comes down to the team in the car to get results.
"It's about speed and having confidence in everything you do," he said.
This year also marks the first time the rally will be held in the North Island. Rally secretary Paul Smith said changing location was a good way of keeping interest in the event going.
"Many international drivers had seen the South Island in three previous rallies, so by showing off more of the country we can keep them coming back."
This year's rally has 17 international entries, including a five-car Escort team from Britain and Belgium, a German team with a Porsche and drivers from the United States and Luxembourg.
Smith said the rally had also changed its entry conditions, with only two-wheel-drive cars being eligible.
"It reflects what the councils are asking for. Four-wheel-drives tend to make a mess of the roads and rip up gravel."
The event will begin in Auckland on November 10 before making its way through Rotorua, Gisborne, Napier, Feilding and Ohakune en route to the finish in Hamilton on November 17.
There will be a service stop at Manfeild Park on Wednesday, November 14, from 5pm.
- Manawatu Standard
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