Old Escort handles the knocks

23:18, Nov 14 2012
Keith Stewart
GOING STRONG: Keith Stewart powers his Ford Escort around a bend on the Silver Fern Rally.

Rongotea driver Keith Stewart almost proudly showed off his durable Ford Escort's battle scars when the Silver Fern Rally rolled into Manfeild from Napier after day four last night.

The buckled back end, ironically sponsored by Kennard Panelbeaters, was a result of a roll over a bank in one of the early stages near Walton in Waikato.

Since then, footage of the roll has lit up Stewart's Facebook page like fireworks.

"We didn't go around a tricky corner," said the man nicknamed Yeti.

"The trees went upside down in the in-car video.

"The front brakes kept locking up."


He had to be towed out, lost half an hour of penalties and slipped to 37th. But since then the 1971 Escort RS1600 has purred along and by last night he was back up to 19th overall in the historic class.

He remembers a roll 20 years ago, and then recalled another in a rally-sprint 30 years back. After the Silver Fern, the Escort will be knocked back into the shape it has had for 320 motorsport events.

The Silver Fern is virtually an Escort rally, with 26 of them in this event.

As Stewart said: "We're still ahead of the modern stuff."

In the context of the rally, he was talking about the historic cars ahead of the classic lot.

Yesterday, the cars enjoyed the dry back roads of Waipukurau and Pongaroa.

Feilding's Euan Fuge and Donna Elder in their Mazda RX3 beetled back to their home garage last night in 18th place. At the end of stage 26 they emitted a big cloud of smoke when tramping along at 184kmh. A cracked gearbox casing saw oil run on to the exhaust - so the casing was replaced on the side of the road.

Palmerston North contractor Kevin Blackley was sitting a nice sixth overall in the historic class in his 1975 Escort RS1800, chasing a top-10 finish. He's had a clean rally aside from a high-speed spin in the Motu (between Opotiki and Gisborne) which one driver described as a "rough as guts".

"I didn't like the stages around Motu," Blackley said. "I couldn't get the right tyres."

Yesterday was the best day of the rally and Stewart cranked his car up to 170kmh, or as his old gauge read, 110mph. The Silver Fern suits him.

"I'm old fashioned; I'm used to not having pace notes."

"These Escorts are so nimble. They have good power, can do everything really well."

Palmerston North property developer Brian Green was playing the good samaritan yesterday before he heads to China on Monday to rally on ice and snow up on the Russian border.

Yesterday he helped tow two cars out and while it cost him a few minutes he was holding ninth place. One was the Escort of rallying legend Neil Allport and Palmerston North navigator Rob Ryan - Green's Escort RS1600 belongs to Allport.

"They owe us a favour," Green quipped.

"Today was good and dry and we did all the stages."

Manawatu Standard