Arriving in the Octagon on Friday evening for the driver signing and ceremonial start, there was an electric atmosphere and a great sense of excitement. What a great way to start the 40th Otago Rally, with nearly 100 entrants including Markko Märtin and Hayden Paddon and as Round 1 of this year’s New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) there were several new AP4 cars ready to rally.
What an exciting start to rally season. Cool cars being piloted by talented drivers on some of New Zealand’s best roads!
Dee and I had decided to head for SS2, as we were unable to check SS1 out the day before as it was a locked forestry road. I was a little concerned about where the sun was rising, as the best shots were going to be shooting directly into the dawning day. After a brief discussion, we decided to brave it out and work with what we had.
As the zero cars came through there had built up quite a crowd, which were being managed brilliantly by the marshal. He was able to stop people being where they shouldn’t be in a humorous and non-officious way, which was well received with lots of laughter. Great job!
Before the first car arrived, I heard people in the crowd talking about how Hayden Paddon was already one minute ahead of the field in just one stage. WOW. It was later revealed that the dust was so bad in SS1 some cars actually had to stop mid stage. Not taking anything away from Hayden, as he still had to sweep the road, but didn’t have to deal with the dust.
Before we knew it, Hayden was flying down the road towards us, and boy was he carrying some speed. It’s so impressive to watch. The new AP4 Hyundai, prepared by Force Motorsport, was looking and handling like a WRC car! As the rest of the field arrived one by one, several drivers managed to overcook the corner and end up wide, but most made it through without any problems. Ben Hunt looked like he was already very comfortable in his new Subaru, and Dave Holder was looking extremely committed and quick.
Another of the new AP4 cars driven by Glenn Inkster looked and sounded incredible. Unfortunately, Inky was one of the drivers to arrive a bit too quick and go slightly wide. Recovering quickly, his car sounded very crisp and strong as it roared away.
The classic field arrived with Markko Märtin driving a lot faster than he had led people to believe he would be prior to the rally. A loud cheer erupted from the spectators, as in the distance Klinky had spun off the road. He quickly recovered and got back on track. A little further down the field John Silcock had the same spin as Klinky, only unfortunately for him he went a little further off the road, but thanks to some very energetic spectators, he was able to rejoin the rally.
Due to the way the rally was moving, and the sheer amount of cars entered, we, as always, shoot the whole field. This meant we could only cover two stages a day. Not ideal, but it meant we could see every car. SS8, in Dunedin City was the next one for us, which meant we could cruise back to the town, grab some lunch and be ready for the stage to start.
The stage around the city industrial area is always fun. Most cars leave their gravel tyres on, making for a great spectacle for the crowd, which was quite sizeable. Out of the top NZRC runners, the one that looked blisteringly quick was Graham Featherstone. Not only was he carrying a lot of speed, but he was incredibly late on the brakes. He was pretty impressive to watch. Most crews made it around without too much trouble, although Greg Murphy had a massive lockup heading into turn two. The only crew to spin completely was Peter Sim and Corin Dawson in their Toyota Corolla. They were really trying hard. The last car to come through was the Morris 1880 Mk2. It was so cool to see this car actually out there competing, even if the hydrostatic suspension had it bunny hopping through the corners. Cars like this are what make the Otago Rally what it is.
Another early start was required to drive out into SS9 and get ahead of the road closure. We had decided to pitch up at a hairpin bend at the bottom of a steep hill. The continuing great weather meant we had probably made the wrong call. The dust was going to be a real issue.
We knew Hayden would come down the hill fully committed, but we were not quite prepared for the amount of dust he left behind! Next driver to really impress me with his speed down the hill into the hair pin was Dave Holder. He was on it! Due to the dust, I had to move around a few times to try and get clear shots, but even worse for the drivers was the rising sun which as they exited the hairpin, hit them square in the eyes. Due to the dust all up in the air, it was almost impossible to see where they were going. One driver to impress toward the back of the field was Cory Saxton in his Gemini. He threw it sideways on the way in and kept it pinned. Awesome driving!
Again with so many cars and the rally moving quickly, we were only going to manage two stages, so we decided to head for the last stage of the day, Kuri Bush. This iconic stage is so daunting. Having driven through it end to end now, it’s nothing like how you see it in the in-car footage. The road is a lot steeper than the video shows. This is a road not to be taken for granted. It will bite!
Hayden Paddon came over the crest we were on absolutely flat out, and he flew. The suspension on the AP4 cars has a lot of travel and made the landing look easy. Several other drivers who flew were Dave Holder, Ben Hunt and Jeff Judd. The most impressive jump came from Regan Ross in his Escort. Amazing!
The 40th Otago rally was an awesome event, with some fantastic driving. Great effort by all those involved in making it happen, and all the volunteers who gave up their time.
We will be back next year.
The rest the 2016 NZRC bodes well as it moves north for the International Rally of Whangarei on 29th April.
Full gallery can be seen here