Right about now we should be just three weeks away from the return of Rally New Zealand to the World Rally Championship.
Unfortunately, due to some thing called COVID-19, that’s not happening.
So, in light of that, I thought it might be timely to look back on one of my most memorable Rally New Zealand experiences, to a time when the great Finn, Ari Vatanen, steamed up the Motu – quite literally.
As iconic as the Col de Turini in Monte Carlo and Ouninpohja in Finland, New Zealand’s Motu stage always conjures up memories of some of the best rally drivers in the world, on one the best rally roads in the world.
Tight, hilly, slippery and frustratingly narrow, the Motu is a stage that you either get right, or you get it totally wrong.
Colin McRae was the man of the Motu, and regularly dominated the stage and set up Rally New Zealand victories there.
But my favourite memory of the Motu comes from 1994 when Ari Vatanen was driving the pretty Ford Escort RS Cosworth.
While Colin McRae did dominate the stage, Vatanen had the power steering fail on his Escort, and had to drive the majority of the stage unassisted, and the strain was clearly evident at the finish.
Typically, it was a freezing cold morning as we waited at the end of the marathon 44.80km stage, but as the Flying Finn arrived at the finish control, it was clear that everything was not well inside the Escort.
The windows had begun to fog up, and as Ari opened the door to talk to journalists, I can clearly remember the steam rising from his steaming driving gloves as he battled to catch his breath and recover from what must surely have been a superhuman effort.
Ari’s time was slow, but his effort to get the car to finish control rates, in my mind, just as impressively as Colin’s devastatingly quick winning time.
Later that day I drove the stage in a hire car, marveling at the number of corners and the unique camber of the road.
After heavy rain and after one running of the stage in the morning, just keeping the hire car on the road was a challenge – I could only imagine what it must have been like at speed.
Eventually, we reached the mid-stage water splash where we eagerly awaited the second running of the stage, only for it to be cancelled because the road conditions had deteriorated so much since the morning’s running of the Motu.
My own efforts in the hire car had, it seemed, been almost as impressive as those of Ari and Colin. Well, at least in my mind …..