The annual New Zealand versus the rest of the world battle resumes again this weekend with the running of the International Otago Classic Rally in Dunedin.
In a strong field again dominated by Ford Escorts, Norway’s World Rally Championship star, Mads Ostberg, has a tough job on his hands if he’s to match Estonia’s Markko Martin, who won the past two Otago Classic Rallies in the same car.
But it’s not just Ostberg the local Kiwi aces need to beat, with Welsh star Meirion Evans and Australia’s Stewart Reid both targeting a podium finish.
Ostberg last competed in the World Rally Championship in February’s Swedish Rally as part of the factory Citroen team, but this weekend’s two-day, 17 stage Otago Rally offers entirely different challenges.
For a start, this will be Ostberg’s first rally on New Zealand soil and, more importantly, his first ever gravel rally in a rear-wheel drive car. If anyone is capable of overcoming these obstacles, however, it’s the likeable Norwegian.
Mads Ostberg is contesting a gravel rally in a rear-wheel drive car for the first time. Photo: Peter Whitten
“I’ve heard so many great things about the event and I just can’t wait to see the stages on the recce,” Ostberg said after his initial test of the car on Wednesday.
When asked about his expectations for the weekend, he was hopeful.
“I could say it’s for the experience, but I would lie. Always when I complete, I like to win. I will try for sure,” he added.
“It seems that the limit of the car is quite high. Higher than I expected, so we will see.
“I want to enjoy the roads, the landscape and enjoy the time in the car with Stephane and the great team. Hopefully on top of that, we can win!”
Australian Stewart Reid testing his Ford Escort RS1800 in the snow this week. Photo: Peter Whitten
South Island drivers Regan Ross (Kaikoura) and Derek Ayson, (Gore) are both piloting high-revving Ford Escorts as well, and loom as Ostberg’s biggest local threats.
Ayson is a multiple winner of the rally, while Ross finished second to Markko Martin in 2017 and is desperate to go one better this year.
Christchurch charger, Deane Buist, will drive a largely unproven Volkswagen Golf GTi, but as another past Otago Classic Rally winner, he’ll be one to keep a close watch on.
Add into the mix John Silcock’s Mazda RX7, and a seemingly endless list of Mk2 Escorts, and it promises to be a thrilling battle on some of the best rally roads New Zealand has to offer.
Allan Dippie is Dunedin's best hope in his Porsche 911. Photo: Peter Whitten
Richie Chadwick (Toyota Corolla) and Allan Dippie (Porsche 911) are the leading Dunedin drivers in the rally, while Australians Grant Walker (Escort), Darryn Snooks (Datsun), Ed Mulligan (BMW) and Bruce Field (Mercedes Benz) add further international flavour to the 36 car classic field.
The 2018 Otago Rally receives Major Events funding from Dunedin City Council, and is supported by the Otago Community Trust.
This year’s route includes famous Otago Rally stages Kuri Bush, Waipori Gorge, McIntosh Road and Whare Flat.
To follow the results this weekend, head to www.chrissport.nz
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