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Flying Finn ready for Otago Rally debut

Six years after he was initially scheduled to compete at the ENEOS Otago International Classic Rally, Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen will suit up for the world-famous rally next April.

Hirvonen was set to compete in the 2016 and 2020 events, but due to a late schedule conflict and COVID-19, his desire to compete on the Dunedin roads could not be fulfilled.

In 2023, though, the time has come for the 15-time World Rally Championship round winner to get behind the wheel for the April 1-2 event.

“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to come to Dunedin. Being able to compete at the Otago Rally is something I’ve had on my list for a while now, and until now, we’ve failed to make it happen,” Hirvonen says.

“It will be great to get to grips with the famous Ford Escort RS1800 that so many have driven and to experience all that the event has to offer.”

Hirvonen has competed on seven occasions in New Zealand, with four podiums to his name at Rally New Zealand, mainly behind the wheel of a Ford Focus World Rally Car.

He has never ventured to the South Island to compete, and it’s something he’s looking forward to, particularly given the history of the event.

“I’ve seen plenty of videos from the rally and the roads are amazing, and I’m looking forward to getting down there. I am excited to also visit this beautiful area and mixing with the local competitors,” he says.

“For sure, I will be aiming to win, but I’ll be making the most of the experience and having fun at the same time.”

The Flying Finn competed with Ford for the majority of his WRC career, but also had stints with Citroen, Subaru and Skoda.

For event organisers, the chance to have yet another international rally star on the entry list is great reward for their hard work through the COVID-19 pandemic and restarts what has been a long-standing tradition of the event.

“It will be great to have a world-class international back on our beautiful Otago roads,” event spokesperson Roger Oakley says.

“Mikko’s entry is a welcome one, and we’re glad we can finally welcome him to Dunedin.

“The fans that gather in the Otago region for the rally will get to witness a world-class driver and a man who is popular the world over.

“There have been almost 100 teams that have already registered their interest in the event, so we’re looking forward to another large field competing.”

The Otago Rally has a history of attracting WRC stars to the event, including World Champions Bjorn Waldegard, Hannu Mikkola, Juha Kankkunen, Ari Vatanen, Miki Biasion and Didier Auriol, while legends such as Michele Mouton and father and son, Jimmy and Alister McRae, have also competed in the event.

Most recently, the likes of Markko Martin and Mads Ostberg have won the famed Otago International Classic Rally.

The 2023 Otago Rally will be held from Friday March 31 to Sunday April 2.

The Otago Rally is proudly supported by Dunedin City Council Premier Event funding.

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