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INTERVIEW: NZ rally legend Jeff Judd

Jeff Judd recently clinched the 2017 Mainland Rally Series. All photos: Geoff Ridder

Jeff Judd is one of the main stays of New Zealand rallying, having been a competitor since the early 1980s, both as a successful driver and co-driver.

Now 56, Christchurch-based Judd is still as active as ever in the sport, and recently won the South Island’s Mainland Rally Series in his Subaru Impreza WRX.

His interest in rallying started back in the early 1970s on a Heatway Rally, and nearly 45 years on, he shows no signs of slowing down.

RallySport Magazine asked Judd about his beginnings in the sport, and where that has taken him. It’s been some ride!

JEFF JUDD: My interest in rallying began in the 70s when my Uncle Phil Judd was involved in servicing on the 1973 Heatway Rally for an Australian team, and then also his involvement with a local driver, Geoff Owen, who was a neighbour for a while.

A few trips away servicing at the Westland Rally and helping Block Marshall (road closure) at Hanmer Rally got me really hooked. I co-drove the 1981 Timaru Rally with an old school mate, Simon Davies, when we were 20.

In 1982 I purchased my own car, a Mk1 Escort RS2000 and did five South Island rallies, keeping it in one piece until the last hillclimb of the year when I rolled it. I also won my first event that year, a local Sprint. My first Rally win was Westland in 1986 – my first drive in a Mk2 Escort RS2000.

You’ve sat with some of the country’s best drivers, including Brian Stokes and Marty Roestenburg in the 1990s. What are some of your best memories from those times?

Quite a few years were spent only competing in club events and co-driving while I purchased my first house and got married in 1987. My first Rally NZ co-driving was in 1987 with my previous co-driver, Gary Sibley, in a Toyota Starlet.

1987 and 1988 were spent co-driving for old mate Simon Davies, where we did well in the NZ Championship, and 1988 Rally NZ sitting as high as second before crashing, like many before us.

1989 and 1990 I started co-driving for Garry Cliff in a Toyota Corolla and Subaru Leone Turbo, where we won the Group A 1600cc class in the NZ Championship. The highlight of 1989 was contesting Rally Australia with Simon Davies in the Leone, teaming up with Possum Bourne and Roger Freeth -we finished 13th I think.

In 1991 Brian Stokes asked me to co-drive in his new 4WD Ford Sierra Cosworth. These were the new generation of 4WD rally cars and the same spec as the factory Ford cars. 1991 Rally NZ was special with a big battle with Neil Allport for first New Zealander, where we unfortunately punctured near the end and finished in 7th overall.

The GPA period was a great time to be involved with a top team, and the competition between Allport, McAndrew, Possum and Stokes was an unforgettable period in my rally career, and the start of many great friendships.

In 1993, the introduction of the Ford Escort Cosworth saw another great Rally NZ, finishing 8th overall. We were not quite quick enough to match Joe McAndrew for first Kiwi.

1994 was a bit of a forgettable year with Stokes, with a massive crash in the final NZRC round in the Manawatu. 1994 was to finish on a high, being invited to the Canberra Rally to sit with a young Greg Graham. A team of Kiwis came over and a great Group N battle with Reece Jones, including a rollover for us, went right to the wire, with us winning Group N and finishing third overall.

An exciting 1995 included being invited, along with Paul Adams, to help Possum Bourne in the Prodrive works team to be his gravel note crew, doing rallies in Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia. The year finished off sitting with Greg Graham in the first Targa Rally NZ and winning overall.

In the meantime, I had been competing in regional rallies and events in my first BDA Escort, purchased in 1992. A highlight was being second overall behind Brian Stokes in the 1992 Westland Rally, when I was part of his team in National events. I also won the Taupo Classic and 2WD Rally in 1994.

In 1996 and 1997 I co-drove for Garry Cliff and in 1997 Marty Roestenberg also. We nearly won the National Championship, but also had a massive accident in Rally NZ after the finish of a special stage, two cars behind Greg Graham, who had also crashed heavily.

I won the Mainland (South Island) Rally Series as a co-driver in 1996 and 1997, and spent 1998 and 1999 mainly driving my second BDA Escort and winning the Otago Classic Rally in 1998, and the New Zealand Clubsport 2WD title, as it was called then.

In 2000 we built our first 4WD and started doing some South Island and NZRC events, including my first Rally NZ driving, in 2002. I won my first Mainland title in 2001.

Jeff Judd (right) with a young Mark Tapper and 1984 World Rally Champion, Stig Blomqvist.

Mark Tapper and Jeff Judd in the 2003 Rally of New Zealand.

The damage to Tapper’s Lancer after a last stage Rally of New Zealand accident.

Into the 2000s you progressed further and did plenty of WRC rounds with Mark Tapper in the Pirelli Star Driver competition. Was Mark one of those drivers who had all the talent, but simply ran out of funds?

This was when we met a young Mark Tapper, but it was Reece Jones that approached me to co-drive in the 2002 APRC in his final year with Falken Tyres. A great but tough year, gaining lots of experience.

2003 was my first year with Mark (Tapper) in Mitsubishi Evos supported by Ralliart NZ and PJ (Peter Johnston) and his company GVI. We had some great results, like APRC Rally Rotorua 2003 and 2004, 1st GPN NZRC 2005, Rally Rotorua 3rd overall and 2nd Group N, and Rally NZ 2005 1st Kiwis home.

Late in 2005 and 2006 we drove for VW in China in the 2WD Championship, writing our own pace notes for the first time. Mark went on to drive Fiestas in NZ, while I went back to driving more myself – in 2007 winning the Open 4WD NZ Championship called Rally Xtreme Plus, my second Mainland title. In 2006 I also did Rally Argentina with the flamboyant Andrew Hawkeswood.

In 2007, Reece Jones was running a rally hire business in the APRC and asked me to help sort notes and guide an Indian client, Naren Kumar, who was multi-time Indian Rally Champion. I joined Naren in Japan and we had immediate success with fifth overall, then went onto Malaysia where we got a second overall, then a DNF in Indonesia.

I started the 2008 NZRC season with Emma Gilmour after having previously done Rally of Melbourne with her in Australia 2002. At the same time, the Pirelli Star Scholarship was announced and Mark (Tapper) discussed giving it a go.

As I was committed to Emma, he did Rally Whangarei with another co-driver. Then, with my previous experience in Malaysia, where the final was, we made a plan to do a round of their domestic championship before the APRC final.

It was invaluable in giving us experience in the slippery conditions and different surfaces in and out of the plantations. Onto the final in Johor, we won the Pirelli final, finishing third overall.

2009 was the highlight of my rallying life, doing so many Production World Rally Championship (PWRC) rounds and rallies in Portugal, Sardinia, Greece, Finland, Spain, Great Britain and Australia. Mark was probably the most naturally talented driver I ever sat with, but luck never really went his way, and a lack of funds made it difficult to continue.

I was still doing a little driving, and won the 2010 Silver Fern Historic Rally.

You also did a PWRC campaign with Indonesian Subhan Aksa. How did that drive come about?

In 2012, I was asked to sit with Subhan in a limited PWRC campaign, the first at the Acropolis Rally in Greece, where we were second in Group N PWRC, then Rally NZ – again second in PWRC.

At Rally Germany I had a back injury, forcing us out for one day after I made a navigation mistake, but we then re-joined and went onto finish under Super Rally in sixth PWRC.

Judd’s black BDA was driven in the Otago Rally by Russell Brookes, Bjorn Waldegard and Hannu Mikkola.

Before then, however, you also had your own Escort RS1800 that was used by drivers such as Hannu Mikkola in the Otago Rally. This must be one of the memories that gives you the most pleasure?

In 2001 when the Otago Classic Rally was gaining momentum, Norm and Roger Oakley approached me to run the guest driver, Russell Brookes, in our BDA Escort. Then, in 2002 it was driven by Bjorn Waldegard, and in 2003, Hannu Mikkola.

This was an absolute pleasure, and all were real gentlemen and so easy to look after. Although with me competing myself, it was Andrew Cowles (aka Crowbar) and Mark ‘Smithy’ Smith (my main man and full-time mechanic) that did an awesome job looking after them and providing a reliable car.

At what point did you decide that it was actually more fun on the other side of the car, and you switched to driving?

I have always enjoyed co-driving and driving. Even in the big co-driving years, I was still driving other events, be it classics or motor racing, like the Mazda RX7 series from 1998 until 2002.

We were second or third in New Zealand every year in that series, and I then did the Bridgestone Porsche series, where I won the NZ class in 2005.

Later in my co-driving, and after Subhan, I decided I should retire. It is from about then I really committed to driving only.

Jeff Judd on his way to winning the 2017 Mainland Rally Series in his Subaru Impreza WRX.

You’ve been known as a flamboyant driver who has had his share of accidents. Which one comes to mind as your biggest?

I have had my share of accidents! My first big one was in 1983 when I destroyed my Mk1 Escort in the Canterbury Rally, flipping into pine trees.

My most spectacular, as caught on film, was the 2011 Otago Rally on day two when Ari Vatanen was here – the same stage that destroyed three Escorts:, mine, Shane Murland’s and Robert Van Gisbergen’s.

Some of my biggest have been co-driving: Stokes – Manawatu at the end of the 1994 season; Roestenberg – Rally NZ 1997; Tapper – Rally NZ 2003, last stage into the back of a near stationary Japanese competitor.

Judd even rallied a Vauxhaull Chevette, seen here on the Otago Rally.

Recently you’ve alternated between your Escort and a Subaru WRX. How has your co-driving experience allowed you to master both rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive?

I’m not sure if my co-driving has helped in the difference between 4WD and the Escort, but certainly just doing miles and seeing roads helps.

However, it’s not easy to get right on the pace straight away. This year, after concentrating on my Subaru, has helped develop a good consistent pace.

Jeff and his son Taylor, who is also showing plenty of talent behind the wheel.

Who’s been the driving force behind your rallying?

I guess my Uncle, Phil Judd, at the start – and he still loves coming from Australia to a few events every year. My school friend Simon Davies, as he did well in business, and we did bigger events because of this, like Rally NZ in 1988 and Rally Australia in 1989.

My now brother-in-law, Garry Cliff, has been a big help from the late 80s until now.

Sitting with Brian Stokes for four years in what were some of the best years in rallying in cars equal to the works teams was a real thrill, as was the opportunity to meet and compete alongside guys like Possum Bourne. And then doing APRC gravel notes for Possum, with team mates like Colin McRae.

Later, Reece Jones was a big influence, as I contested an APRC series with him in 2002, then being invited to sit with customer drivers like Kumar. Reece also ran Mark (Tapper) in Malaysia in 2008 to win the Pirelli Star Driver Scholarship.

Lately, my major driving force is closer to home, where it is more of a family and business involvement with Mark Smith, who works for me full time and prepares my cars, making it so easy for me to get to events, and enjoy my cars.

The other great part is we both have boys coming through with a big interest in not only servicing, but competing, and also the filming and promotion of us and other competitors.

What’s next for Jeff Judd?

Next for me is just to keep enjoying my rallying, hopefully in good health, and to see two of my boys enjoy and develop in the sport.

I do enjoy sharing some of my cars and it’s been a huge pleasure running Brian Green in regional rallies in my BDA Escort, and also a few other competitors in our team Subaru we call Elvis.

Peter has been the editor of RallySport Magazine since its inception in 1989, in both printed and online form. He is a long-time competitor, event organiser and official, as well as working in the media.

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