Round we go ... Gore driver Derek Ayson and Dale Furniss, of the United Kingdom, work hard around a bend during the Pirelli International Rally in Kielder Forset, in England on April 27. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Being the only driver with a New Zealand flag next to his name was a special moment for Derek Ayson. Ayson competed in the Pirelli International Rally in Kielder Forest, England, with more than 130 entries from the United Kingdom on April 27. It was his first time competing in the event and he placed seventh in the historic class. Sports reporter Kayla Hodge caught up with Ayson to hear about his first experience competing in the United Kingdom.

When Derek Ayson’s friend invited him to compete in the Pirelli International Rally, he thought he was joking.

As the amusement wore off, Ayson decided the opportunity was too good to pass up.

His friend Meirion Evans, of Wales, provided Ayson with a top-speed BDG Ford Escort to drive and paired him up with co-driver Dale Furniss for the race.

The pair placed seventh in the historic class, which involved six stages over 80 miles (128km).

It was the biggest class in the competition, with about 80 competitors, he said.

Ayson was happy to finish within the top 10.

“I’m pretty happy with that. It was a new country I’d never rallied in and a borrowed car.

“Going over, I knew the locals would be competitive and know the roads.

“It was great to finish every stage without any damage to the car.”

Driving with an unknown co-driver can be challenging but Ayson and Furniss clicked from the start.

Ayson was amazed Furniss was able to give him calls even when he could not see out the windscreen.

“His entire side of the windscreen fogged up and he was still calling everything perfectly.

“He was exceptional. He’s a well-respected co-driver and we had a few laughs along the way.”

The afternoon stages were hard, as it began to rain.

“The first few stages it was dry but then it became really slippery when it started raining and visibility came into play.”

Furniss provided notes for Ayson to work on before competing in the rally.

“I needed to drive a little bit straighter; the roads over there are a similar surface but they are narrow compared to here.”

He took the notes on board and worked on them at the Otago Rally in March, where he placed second.

Competing in his first European rally was a dream come true for Ayson.

“Life’s too short and an offer like this may never have come up again.”

He travelled to the UK with his wife, Rachel, and was grateful to Evans for organising everything for them.

“He’s a great guy. I was pretty overwhelmed by everything he did for us.”

The pair met at the Silver Fern Rally in 2016.

Ayson is set to compete at the Catlins Rally in August.

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