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Olympic medallist and three-time World Champion BMX racer Sarah Walker will make her rallying debut at this year’s Otago Rally as guest driver.

Walker, New Zealand’s first Olympic BMX medallist, who won Silver in 2012 and is a long-standing member of the Athletes’ Commission of the International Olympic Committee, says she was “stoked” to be invited by the Rally.

“When I was younger, I used my first lot of BMX winnings to buy a PlayStation and one of my favourite games was Colin McRae Rally,” says Walker.

“Fast forward to competing in the PlayStation GT5 (Grand Tourismo) and GT7 charity events, doing a couple of hot laps of Hampton Downs with Greg Murphy, and even racing a Super Saloon in Western Springs speedway.

“I don’t know if there is a most exciting part. Doing the driver training last week was already amazingly fun. I’ve watched some video of the Rally and even though the scenery looks incredible, my eyes will be so focused on driving my best and (hopefully) staying on the road!”

Today, Walker took a test run in Christchurch and says she had “lots of fun”.

“I have nothing to compare my driving today with except the videos I’ve seen of Hayden Paddon, so probably not quite as good as Hayden Paddon,” she laughs. “But I stayed on the road for most of it and floored it at points and changed gears and got it sideways and flicked up some dust.”

Organisers behind the event, say they are thrilled to have Sarah Walker onboard for 2023, driving alongside co-driver Grant Marra in the same 1998 Subaru Impreza as gold medallist Hamish Bond last year and motorcycle racer Avalon Biddle in 2021.

“We’re excited to have Sarah compete in the rally, she’s been really enthusiastic and I know she’ll have a fantastic experience,” says Rally spokesman Roger Oakley.

“Having her compete is truly motivating for all the people who make this event happen and we hope will bring along some new fans. She’ll be a wonderful ambassador.”

Oakley says Sarah’s run today showed her competitive drive and “from our very first conversation, she demonstrated a very professional approach that top athletes bring to sport”.

“I think we’ll see her times improve significantly during the event and it wouldn’t surprise me if she becomes competitive with some of the established drivers.”

Fans will have a chance to see Sarah Walker during the Otago Rally at the ceremonial start in the Octagon on Friday, March 31, at the service parks or the Super Stage in Dunedin on Saturday April 1.

Walker joins the event’s international guest, Finland’s rally legend Mikko Hirvonen, who will contest the 2023 ENEOS Otago International Classic Rally in the legendary Ford Escort RS1800.

The Winmax Brake Pads Otago Rally is the first round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship, a Pacific Cup round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship and a round of the inaugural TER World Series, and has attracted many Kiwi and international competitors, including Hayden Paddon, Emma Gilmour, Raana Horan and Todd Bowden and drivers from Finland, Australia, New Caledonia, Japan, Philippines and Vanuatu.

The Rally is grateful for the support of Dunedin City Council Premier Event funding.

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