Irish stars lead classic field at Otago Rally

Kris Meeke and Noel O’Sullivan are the overnight leaders in the Otago International Classic Rally after a high-class display on stages held south of Dunedin, near Lawrence.

Meeke is one of the guest drivers of the event and, in a borrowed car, was cautious to begin with, but soon gained enviable confidence on the fast and flowing Otago roads.

The Rossendale Wines Ford Escort RS1800 is his steed for the weekend, and he was quick to compliment the car as he got to grips with it.

A five-time World Rally Championship event winner, Meeke won all but one gravel stage during the day, giving him a clear advantage at the rally’s halfway point.

He capped off the day’s action with a crowd-pleasing display on the popular Tarmac Super Stage in downtown Dunedin and finished with a lead of over a minute and a half.

A three-time former winner of the Otago Classic, Deane Buist, lies behind Meeke in second and is clearly the ‘best of the rest’.

Buist and co-driver Karl Celeste sit behind the Irish leader, and with a significant gap behind them to third, shouldn’t need to take risks to hold their second place position on Sunday.

They’ll be hoping for a clean run to continue their remarkable record on the rally.

The gaps get much closer behind the final podium position, which is currently held by John Silcock’s Mazda RX7.

Silcock and Donna Elder are flying the Mazda flag, and are ahead of another Ford Escort RS1800 of Richie Dalton and Lisa Hudson, by 24.6 seconds.

Dalton, a former Australian Rally Championship front runner, showed his consistency across the day and rose from seventh to fourth after the final stage of the day.

Graham Ferguson is in fifth, just 20 seconds behind Dalton, and also has pressure behind from the spectacular Mk1 Ford Escort of Ally Mackay.

Mackay was lying in third during the middle of the day, but lost time on the long Cityforest stage and now sits as the final member of the top six.

Elsewhere, Kiwi youngster Ari Pettigrew was fast out of the blocks but went off the road on stage five, losing minutes. He would remain in the rally, but was well down the leaderboard.

Australians Tristan Carrigan and Neill Wooley in a rented Ford Escort were in the top five after two stages, but lost all front brakes shortly after, putting paid to their hopes of a result near the top. They sit in tenth overnight.

The other non-Ford Escort in the top 10 is Jake Thomas’ Toyota Levin in ninth.

Sunday’s action takes place on some of the most famous rally stages of the Otago region, concluding with the 15km of Kuri Bush.

The final podium presentation takes place at the Brighton Domain at 2:45pm

Otago International Classic Rally | Standings after Leg One
1/ Meeke/O’Sullivan, Ford Escort RS1800, 1hr 18m39.1s
2/ Buist/Celeste, Ford Escort RS1800, +1m39.8s
3/ Silcock/Elder, Mazda RX7, +4m32.0s
4/ Dalton/Hudson, Ford Escort RS1800, +4m56.6s
5/ Ferguson/Moody, Ford Escort RS1800, +5m16.9s
6/ Mackay/Johnston, Ford Escort Mk1, +5m26.1
7/ McIver/McDonald, Ford Escort RS1800, +6m34.4
8/ Gill/Molloy, Ford Escort Mk2, +7m28.9s
9/ Thomas/Webber, Toyota Levin, +7m53.1s
10/ Carrigan/Wooley, Ford Escort RS1800, +8m32.9s

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