Hirvonen becomes Otago Classic Rally winner
International guest driver Mikko Hirvonen has taken a convincing win in the Eneos Motor Oil Otago Classic Rally, becoming the first overseas driver to win the event since 2019.
Campaigning the Rossendale Wines Ford Escort RS1800, Hirvonen won 10 out of the 14 completed stages, showing he was the class act of the field.
He and co-driver, Jarno Ottman, began leg two with a 30-second overnight lead, and put the foot down on Sunday, taking a clean sweep of stage wins for the day, and completing the rally trouble free.
Hirvonen joins the likes of fellow WRC rally winners Mads Ostberg and Markko Martin in becoming Otago International Classic Rally winners.
First of the chasing pack, and first New Zealander home, was Deane Buist. He drove a stellar rally and was the only person to take stage wins off Hirvonen, however, was unable to keep up with the Finn over the course of the rally.
His second placing in his Ford Escort RS1800 adds to his strong Classic Rally form, which includes the past two rally wins in 2021 and 2022.
Magnum Motorsport’s Jeff Judd rounded out the podium, five minutes further back from Buist, after overcoming some issues and time loss on day one.
John Silcock’s consistent rally in his Mazda Group B RX7 brought him to an impressive fourth place, and first non-Escort on the leaderboard.
Silcock’s push on Sunday’s stages was almost enough to get him a podium, but he couldn’t quite catch the Escort of Judd. He started the day 54 seconds adrift of a podium, and was once within nine seconds during Sunday.
Rounding out the top five was fellow RX7 driver, and first Australian, Stewart Reid. The Queenslander finished the rally nine minutes from the leaders, and will take the confidence from a strong result into the remainder of his New Zealand Rally Championship season.
Tim McIver’s Ford Escort spent much of the rally inside the top 10, but came undone on the 12th stage of the rally, Whare Flat. The same could be said for the McDonalds, who were forced to retire their Nissan Bluebird Turbo 300 metres into the final stage of the rally, Kuri Bush.
Day 2 of the Otago Rally saw competitors tackle stages south of Dunedin in fine weather conditions.
The rally went south west of Dunedin to Waihola, with the route including famous stages such as Waipori Gorge, Whare Flat and the legendary Kuri Bush.