Massive field lines up for 2023 Otago Rally
Dunedin’s Otago Rally has returned to its pre-COVID popularity with over 100 entries received for the event to run on April 1 and 2.
The entry list includes an impressive 19 internationals, with entries coming from Australia, Japan, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and the Phillipines, and headed by multiple World Rally Championship runner-up, Mikko Hirvonen.
As the opening round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship, the Winmax Brakes Otago Rally includes 45 entrants in the national series.
There are also eight entries in the adjoining round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship’s Pacific Cup, while the rally is the opening round of the TER World Series.
The TER World Series is all-new with a number of ‘bucket list’ events on the calendar, with each to receive a 25-minute TV program to be screened in 100 countries afterwards.
Fresh from a brilliant first-up win in the opening round of the European Rally Championship in Portugal, Hayden Paddon will be the hot favourite to win the rally in his Hyundai i20 N Rally2.
Seventeen late-model R5, Rally2 or AP4 cars make up the top of the national field, including local star, Emma Gilmour, in her new Citroen C3 Rally2, and Australian Rally Championship podium placegetter, Richie Dalton, in a locally prepared Skoda Fabia R5.
Like Paddon, Gilmour is fresh from an overseas venture in the Extreme E series where she and her McLaren team finished seventh in the first round of the series in Saudi Arabia.
The ENEOS Oils Otago Classic Rally could see another Ford Escort domination with Hirvonen the hot favourite in his Rossendale Wines RS1800, but strong competition will come from the Christchurch pair, Deane Buist and Jeff Judd, both in similarly fast Fords.
Australia’s Stewart Reid could be a real dark horse in a Group B Mazda RX7 that was previously driven by Kiwi Richard Kelsey. Reid will have young Motor Sport New Zealand Youth Ambassador, Bella Haggarty, in the co-driver’s seat for the first time.
The Classic 4WD competition will see Tim Smith making the switch from a rear-drive Toyota Starlet to a four-wheel drive and turbocharged Subaru Impreza WRX.
Olympic Games medalist, Sarah Walker, will make her rallying debut at the event as well. The BMX racer is the latest in a line of high profile New Zealand sports people to become a guest driver at the rally.
Walker will drive a non-turbocharged Subaru Impreza, one of eight similar 6-cylinder four-wheel drive cars in the category.
After a publicity start in Dunedin’s Octagon on Friday, March 31, the rally takes place to the north and south of the city on Saturday and Sunday, April 1 and 2.
The rally is held over 15 closed road special stages and over 250 competitive kilometres.