For Frank Cunningham and Welsh co-driver Ryland James, the Silver Fern Rally in New Zealand which started today marks a serious rallying adventure, over seven days of loose surface tracks in their Historic MK2 Escort RS1800. It’s the same car that Frank used successfully in May to take eighth overall on the Rallye Du Maroc Historique.
The car was re-built by Frank’s nephews Martin and Jonathan Cunningham of C-Sport, and this family team effort is complimented by Frank’s brother Ray of Galway Mini Centre, whose preparation is a vital link. With nephew Ross and Donegal man Gary McElhinney also playing valuable parts of the team of eleven, it’s very much a family-friendly escapade. The car and spares were shipped out many weeks ago, and on arrival it had to go through a New Zealand MOT test, and scrutineering, but which presented no problems for the immaculate MK2. “Everyone here has been so helpful out here” commented Frank. “They have made it so easy for us and been so helpful. We have a bit of time to relax before the start in this beautiful country, so everything is good before the start, and we can’t wait.”
What lies ahead is an epic event, which includes a 106 kilometre long special stage during the week, and is driven off the organiser’s maps, not pace-notes. “I have one of the best map reader’s along-side me in Ryland, and we have used Google maps to have a look at the route. It’s up to me to read certain sections of the road, just like the old RAC and Circuit of Ireland rallies, and that was part of the attraction of doing this event. They conducted a survey as whether notes should be brought in or not and 80% said no, and I was one of those. There will be some very fast local guys but we are here to do the best we can.”
There have been some modifications made to the MK2, including the fitment of power steering and Reiger suspension, which Frank tested on the shake-down. “I had two spins over-correcting the car initially with the power steering, but once I got it dialled in its some job, and it has to come into play for that 106 kilometre stage. The Reiger suspension has really transformed the car though, there just seems to be so much grip and traction, and I am very happy with the car. It’s a long event though and we need to pace it too, so I think it will really start on Monday.”
The ceremonial start took place in the harbour town of Picton before the six of the forty-nine stages, and Frank and Ryland have made an encouraging start on their trip over these blind stages. They are currently sixth and just behind leader local man Brett Rawstrom also in an RS1800. Indeed the MK2 BDA’s fill nine of the top ten places, as the drivers prepare for the Sunday leg from Blenheim to Westport which starts at 8.50am New Zealand time, 7.50pm Saturday UK time as they are thirteen hours ahead.