Multiple Australian Rally Champion, Neal Bates, has totally dominated the opening day of the Stadium Cars / Nichibo International Classic Rally of Otago.
Driving his Toyota Celica RA40, Bates and long-time co-driver, Coral Taylor, won six of the day’s eight special stages to hold a commanding 38.2 second lead.
Former event winner, Christchurch’s Deane Buist, lies in second place in his Ford Escort RS1800 after winning two stages, while three-time winner, Derek Ayson, is third in his Nissan-powered Escort.
1988 and 1989 World Rally Champion, Miki Biasion, is fifth in a Porsche 911.
Despite having never competed in the Otago Rally before, Bates immediately showed his intentions, winning the opening 18.36 kilometre stage by 13.5 seconds from Buist. From there, the four-time Australian Champion continued to extend that lead.
So impressive was Bates’ speed on the first day of the rally, held to the north west of Dunedin, he lies an incredible fourth outright in the combined results that also include the New Zealand Rally Championship cars.
“We’re having a ball – it’s been a great day,” Bates said.
“I’m sure if I had the day over again I could do a lot better, but I’m really enjoying the roads and the car has been perfect.
“I’ve got no complaints really, although we have had some issues with the wheel rims which meant that we couldn’t run tyres which were soft enough. We struggled for grip a little, particularly on the Dansey’s Pass stage.
“Other than that it was great. We’ll keep pushing hard tomorrow to try and maintain the lead,” he said.
In second place, Buist is still well within striking distance of Bates should the Australian hit trouble over the final day’s eight special stages.
Ayson is also still in with a chance, however he’s over a minute from the lead and would need luck to be on his side if he was to secure a fourth event win.
Miki Biasion leaves the start in Dunedin on Friday night.
Italian driver, Biasion, has not competed competitively for many years, but his skill was clearly evident as he tackled the slippery gravel stages. His co-driver, fellow Italian Fabrizia Pons, is an Otago Rally regular, and her knowledge of the event has proved vital.
Biasion got faster as the day wore on, and will be hoping for an even better showing on day two.
“It has been a fantastic day,” co-driver Fabrizia Pons said. “The roads were in beautiful condition, but very fast.
“Our day has gone very well and Miki is driving well.”
Australian drivers Stewart Reid (Ford Escort RS1800) and Jeff David (Porsche 911) are in sixth and seventh places.
In the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship event, Hayden Paddon (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) holds a huge lead of over nearly three minutes after his main rival, Richard Mason (Subaru Impreza WRX), suffered punctures during the day.
The Allcomers Rally is led by Brian Stokes in a Ford Escort 2500, ahead of Steve Wellington’s Lancer Evo 6, and Dean Bond’s Lancer Evo 6.5.
The final day of the Rally of Otago will see crews head to the north west and south of Dunedin, with eight special stages. The rally concludes with three of the event’s most famous tests – Waipori Gorge, Kuri Bush and Whare Flat.
The rally finishes at the historic Dunedin Railway Station, with the champagne to be sprayed at around 3.15pm.
Stadium Cars / Nichibo International Classic Rally of Otago
Results after Day 1
Neal Bates / Coral Taylor, Toyota Celica RA40, 1h25m00.9s
Dean Buist / Andrew Bulman, Ford Escort RS1800, +38.2s
Derek Ayson / Andrew Graves, Ford Escort FJ2000, +1m13.9s
Jeff Judd / Malcolm Read, Ford Escort RS1800, +2m35.4s
Miki Biasion / Fabrizia Pons, Porsche 911 RS, +3m19.7s
Stewart Reid / Iain Stewart, Ford Escort RS1800, +3m27.5s
Jeff David / Grant Geelan, Porsche 911, +3m59.8s
Roger Townshend / Richard Atkinson, Ford Escort RS1800, +4m51.3s
Graham Fergusson / Bede O’Connor, Ford Escort RS1800, +5m26.3s
Cameron Moore / Chris Nicholas, Toyota Levin AE86, +7m17.8s
Story: Peter Whitten
Photos: John Kilpatrick