Finnish World Rally Championship star, Mikko Hirvonen, will contest next year’s Stadium Cars International Classic Rally of Otago in a huge coup for the New Zealand event.
The winner of 15 World Rally Championship (WRC) events, Hirvonen retired from the top level of rallying at the end of the 2014 season, but will drive a Ford Escort RS1800 for the Rossendale Wines team in the Dunedin based event.
It is hoped that Hirvonen, 35, will be joined at the Otago Rally by long-time co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen, the man who sat beside him when they finished runners-up in the WRC an incredible four times.
The Flying Finn is looking forward tackling the rally for the first time.
“I have been aware of the Otago Classic Rally for a number of years, and it has always been an event that I wanted to do one day,” Hirvonen said.
“I have competed in Rally New Zealand many times, but have never competed on the South Island roads.
“The attraction of competing on these roads in a legendary BDA Escort is irresistible.
“For sure, I will be aiming to win, but I am looking forward to also visiting this beautiful area and mixing with the local competitors,” he added.
Hirvonen drove for the Ford, Citroen, Subaru and Skoda teams during his 13 years in the WRC, and now owns his own Ford Escort RS1800 that he competes in regularly.
Otago Rally spokesman, Roger Oakely, said that the event was thrilled to be welcoming another world-class rally driver to the event.
“We are excited to receive Mikko’s entry, as he has a fabulous record in the World Championship and our fans are in for a treat of world class driving on world class roads,” Oakely said.
“New Zealand and Australian competitors will have a real benchmark to compare themselves to.
“Mikko is known for being very approachable and likeable, and we are delighted to welcome him to the Otago Rally.”
The Otago Rally has a history of attracting WRC stars to the event, including Bjorn Waldegard, Hannu Mikkola, Juha Kankkunen, Ari Vatanen, Miki Biasion, Didier Auriol, Michele Mouton and father and son, Jimmy and Alister McRae.
New Zealand’s own WRC star, Hayden Paddon, has also been a regular competitor in the event, most recently in 2015 when he created a sensation by winning the event outright in a classic car.
The 2016 Otago Rally will be held from April 8 to 10 next year.