Keeping it in the family

The Kiwi fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree in New Zealand rallying, with another ‘next generation’ rally driver set to make his debut.

Jack Stokes, the son of two-time New Zealand Rally Champion, Brian Stokes, will make his driving debut when he tackles the Westland Rally next month.

Rallying runs through the blood like some sort of dusty DNA, and once you’ve been ‘infected’ by the drug, it’s nearly impossible to get it out.

Jack will be driving the family’s Ford Fiesta R2 in the event, with the experienced Samantha Gray calling the pace notes.

It’s the same car that his brother, Robbie, drove in his formative years in the sport, before becoming a New Zealand Rally Championship front-runner at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta AP4.

Interesting, Jack sat on the other side of the Fiesta in the corresponding rally last year, when he was co-driver for Robbie. They won Class B on that occasion.

Mads Ostberg Ford Escort Rally Otago 2017

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The NZRC’s opening round, the Otago Rally in April, has conceded that there is next to no chance of star driver, Mikko Hirvonen, making it to Dunedin.

The Coronavirus pandemic means that the rally will be primarily an NZ-only rally, with many Australian competitors also unlikely to be able to make it across the Tasman.

This will be the third time that Finnish WRC star Hirvonen’s entry in the Otago Rally has been curtailed.

His first appearance was cancelled when he was later signed up for Mini’s cross country rally program, while last year the rally was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Nevertheless, organisers are pressing on with plans for what will be an exciting season opener.

The Saturday stages are identical to those planned for 2020, with the day being based around a service park in Lawrence. Highlights include the monster ‘Manuka Hill’ stage.

Total stage distance now in excess of 290km, with Sunday again based around a service park in Waihola.

The rally will finish with a flourish with a run along the world famous Kuri Bush stage.

The rally guide and event regulations are now available from the Otago Rally website at

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COVID-19 is still having a major impact on motorsport in Australia, with changes already being made to the 2021 national championship schedule.

After the season begins in Canberra late in March, the series was scheduled to head to Western Australia in May for round two.

Motorsport Australia, however, have already removed the Forest Rally from the calendar and have added the Rally of Queensland – on the same weekend in May.

It was a decision that not only caught competitors off guard, but also the Forest Rally organising team, who weren’t expecting a decision for some weeks.

With the more potent UK variant of COVID-19 having entered the community in Victoria last week, nothing is guaranteed moving forward.

Snap lockdowns or border closures may have serious implications on not only Australian championship rallies, but state or club events across the board.

As New Zealand has found out again this week, nothing is a given.

Peter Whitten

Peter has been the editor of RallySport Magazine since its inception in 1989, in both printed and online form. He is a long-time competitor, event organiser and official, as well as working in the media.

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