It may be still more than five months away, but the Otago Rally continues to re-invent itself with a raft of changes that should make the event even more popular with both competitors and spectators alike.
The Dunedin-based rally last week announced that popular rallying commentator, Colin Clark, will be one of the event’s special guests from April 12-14, bringing even greater publicity to a rally that has previously attracted several former World Rally Champions to its illustrious competitor list.
As the first round of the New Zealand Rally Championship, the event has become a favourite for many over the years, with WRC star Hayden Paddon regularly claiming it to be his favourite event of the season.
The international classic rally that runs alongside the NZRC is where most of the overseas interest has come from, however.
Drivers such as Hannu Mikkola, Juha Kankkunen, Ari Vatanen and Mads Ostberg have all tried their hand at the classic rally, yet one of the main hurdles for them obtaining success has always been the single-pass reconnaissance that has hampered their speed.
Like most rallies, much of the Otago Rally route remains unchanged from year to year, with stages like Kuri Bush, McIntosh Road, Waipori Gorge and Whare Flat a real part of the event’s folklore.
But it also means that those who have contested the event on a regular basis have a distinct advantage on the fast, cresty roads of Otago’s premier rally.
For next year though, the two-pass recce will help those new to the event greatly, and could be the catalyst for even more international crews trying their hand and seeing what all the fuss is about.
Another major change is a reverse seeding for those in the classic rally – something that takes the event back to the early 2000s.
The new-breed of Classic 4WD cars will lead the field away, followed by the 2WD classics in reverse seeding order, technically from slowest to fastest.
After a short break, the NZRC field will follow, giving spectators a unique experience not available elsewhere.
I’ve been going to the Otago Rally for 15 years now, and remember the reverse seeding fondly from those early to mid-2000 years, and how building up the speed increased the excitement significantly.
The recent release of the 2019 WRC calendar may also work into the Otago Rally’s favour, and is likely to see Hayden Paddon return to either defend his outright crown, or take on the classics once again.
The rally sits neatly between the French and Argentinian rounds of the WRC, something that will allow Colin Clark, and hopefully Paddon, to venture to the deep south.
New Zealand’s rally season may be pretty well over, but there’s still plenty happening.
Event-winning AP4 cars are being sold, new cars are being built, and the NZRC is set to welcome a new champion by the end of the 2019 season.
It may only be October, but the excitement is already building.