WRC stars headline packed double-header rally festival in Otago
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WRC stars will headline an expected capacity 130-car entry for mid-April’s double-header rally festival in Otago.
Star attractions of the April 13-15 events will be Kiwi WRC star Hayden Paddon chasing New Zealand Rally Championship honours and Norway’s Mads Ostberg competing in the Otago Classic Rally.
Paddon uses the opportunities presented by his reduced WRC programme with Hyundai Motorsport to chase his sixth Rally of Otago victory and continue to the development of his Kiwi-built Hyundai i20 AP4 car.
Paddon won the 2016 Otago event on the Hyundai’s debut and it was driven to victory again in 2017 by Mt Maunganui’s David Holder. Paddon ended the 2017 season with a Rally of New Zealand success in the car and will be teamed with long-time co-driver John Kennard at Otago.
The long-standing partnership between the Otago organisers and the Rossendale Wines Rally Team of Brent Rawstron — that has brought an international guest driver to the Otago Classic Rally each year since 2002 — will see Norwegian Ostberg driving the Ford Escort RS1800.
It will be Ostberg’s first visit to the Otago event but he will have the experience of Belgian co-driver Stephane Prevot alongside — who called the pace notes for 2016 and 2017 winner Markko Martin (Estonia).
Ostberg has a part-time role driving for the Citroen squad in the 2018 World Rally Championship and he finished sixth — one place behind Paddon — at WRC Rally Sweden earlier this month.
Another topline international bringing a classic-spec Ford Escort RS1800 to the Otago event is three-time Welsh rally champion Meirion Evans who will be co-driven by Aucklander Rob Scott. Evans is no stranger to South Island roads having won the 2016 edition of the Silver Fern marathon event.
The Rossendale Wines Rally Team Ford Escort RS1800 will have Norwegian star Mads Ostberg behind the wheel this year. Photo / Greg Henderson
Organisers are expecting about 10 international entries for the Classic event — mainly Australian crews including Stewart Reid (Ford Escort RS1800) and Ben Barker (BMW 320iS) who have both achieved top-10 finishes on past Otago outings.
One driver not expected to contest the Otago event is Auckland’s Andrew Hawkeswood who clinched the 2017 New Zealand Rally Championship driving his Mazda2 AP4. Hawkeswood says some new business opportunities are keeping him busy and his rally outings will come later in the season.
There’s international flavour in the NZ Championship with Australia-based Irishman Richie Dalton set to run his Ford Fiesta Proto while further blue oval representation is being introduced to the NZRC field by former champion Brian Stokes (Kaiapoi) with a new Ford Fiesta built to the AP4 regulations.
This year the Otago event will spend less time on the region’s forestry roads and include a greater proportion of its competitive mileage on the fast and undulating Otago public roads.
Saturday April 14 is based at the Waihola service park and the rally route includes the well-known Whare Flat, Taieri Beach, Waipori Gorge and Kuri Bush special stages as part of an eight-stage gravel run before the traditional downtown tarmac super special stage. On Sunday there are service parks at Dunback and Middlemarch as eight special stages race through North Otago roads before a 3pm ceremonial finish at the historic Dunedin Railway Station.
Before the national rally championship season begins at Otago, the 2018 domestic rally calendar kicks off with the Greymouth-based Westland Rally which runs on March 17 to open the seven-round Mainland Rally Series.