I’m very pleased to say I finally made it to an event in the South Island thanks to a lot of help and support from my family. And what an event it was! I was pretty excited to be seeing the likes of Didier Auriol and Hayden Paddon in Mk2 Escorts and Neal Bates in his Toyota Celica over the weekend.
Arriving early Friday morning, I was keen to collect the hire car and go look at some of the stages. The first notable thing as we got off the plane was the temperature. It was somewhat polar compared to Tauranga! The first stage I wanted to look at was almost opposite the airport, so only a few minutes’ drive.
We would be driving the stage in reverse, which from my point of view is quite good, as this is the way I see it from when photographing. The stage was McIntosh Road. At the start of the gravel section there is a sign which said Dry Weather Road only, and as it was currently raining I decided to carry on. Nothing could have prepared me for how steep the road was! The hire car was struggling to get grip on the slippery mud/gravel surface. After a couple of kms or so, we came across the hill we’d wanted to look at. I approached the bottom and tried hard to get up it, but the front wheel drive couldn’t cope with the hill. I was in drive but going backwards down the hill again, sliding all the way to the bottom. Not one to give up, I backed up and had a good run at it. I got a little higher but still failed, ending up going down backwards again. It was then time to give up, turn around, and go back. That in itself was a scary drive out given the steepness and lack of grip. The road has the profile and steepness of a decent rollercoaster ride. I have total respect for each and every driver who drove this stage at competition speed!! You have balls!
Once into town the weather turned and the rain started, meaning a very wet ceremonial start. Luckily the weather didn’t dampen spirits, and many fans and supporters came out and met the drivers etc. There was a really good atmosphere, despite the weather! There was a real sense of rally community here, even moreso than I’ve experienced elsewhere, and I think that’s been great at other events. I just knew this was going to be a good weekend. It was also a pleasure to finally meet up with several people who I have conversed with online, but never met.
Saturday morning dawned a cold and clear day as we drove the hour or so south out of Dunedin to the first stage. On arrival, I was surprised at how cold the wind was, cutting right through me. Despite the freezing cold, spectators turned out in big numbers, more than I’ve come across at other events, which is really great to see. There were several people I knew from the North Island who’d made the trip down just to spectate. Such support for a rally is awesome.
The cars started coming through, with it being hard to pick between the front runners just from what I saw in this first stage. I have to admit that I was particularly looking forward to seeing the Escorts coming through. They didn’t disappoint! Didier Auriol was up first. It was awesome to watch a previous WRC Champ in a pristine Escort. Next up was future WRC Champ Hayden Paddon, who was just spectacular as he went past, on 3 wheels. His commitment was incredible. The classics field was just awesome to watch. I couldn’t wait to move onto the next stage to see more.
Due to the size of the field (80+ cars), we figured we had to skip the next two stages and head for SS4, to ensure we would see the whole field again. It turns out that due to a delay, we could have probably managed SS3 as well, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes. SS4 was a great corner, with a spectacular view down the hill as the cars approached. As the NZRC cars came through, Richard Mason looked totally in control and carried good speed, as did a few of the others. One driver that stuck out was Matt Sommerfield (just like in Whangarei). He set up his car a long way out and did the big toss in. Spectacular Matt! I would love to see you driving an Escort one day!
As the field came through, there was some great action further down the field, with Darryn Snooks / Michael Foreshaw in their Toyota Corolla, and Nigel Marshall/Michael Kelly in their Datsun 1200. They were looking great, with lots of sideways action. Robert Murray/Stuart Jenkinson got a little too sideways, and ended up on the bank right in front of me. Luckily the car appeared okay, and they continued on. So many of the drivers were giving it their all at this corner. It was simply fantastic to watch.
Next up was SS7 – the Super Special, right in the heart of Dunedin, and a change from gravel to tar seal. The circuit isn’t too big, and loops around an industrial block. There is a great spectator point high up on the bank looking down onto the stage. Once again, it was great to see so many people braving the cold to come and watch. The drivers had the choice to switch to tar seal tyres, or carry on with gravel tyres.
There was a great mix of both being used, with the cars on tar seal tyres setting much quicker times. However, the guys on the gravel tyres were putting on a spectacular show, power sliding out of the corners. Ben Hunt was awesome to watch as he drifted his car around the circuit. There were too many drivers to list them all here that were putting on a great show for the crowd. It got pretty exciting a few times when 2 cars were looping around together. Brad McFarlane in his Porsche 911 was right behind **** for a lap or two, but boy did he unleash it once he over took. He let rip with all the power of the car and looked amazing. My stand out memory from this event will be Derek Ayson’s run with the CEO of Dunedin City Council as his passenger. He was flat out and very sideways. The CEO’s face was a real picture. Must have been the thrill ride of a lifetime – you’re a total legend Derek!
Once again the weather turned it on, only this time the freezing wind had gone. We headed to SS## to watch at the spectator point. Richard Mason was the first car through, and still looked as cool as ever. Next to come along was Dave Holder, who arrived and pulled off to the side of the road and Ben Hawkins (co-driver) jumped out and ran to find a marshal. We had already realised there were a couple cars missing, and wondered what had happened. Andrew Hawkeswood also slowed to speak to marshals, so it was clear something serious had happened. Unfortunately, Chis West had rolled his car in the stage, ending his rally. As a result of his crash, the stage was cancelled.
We moved onto SS10, McIntosh Road. We walked in from the start, as we had been told of a hair pin that tightens and it sounded like a good spot. Unfortunately, due to the lack of space to stand, we had to abandon that and look for another spot. I walked back towards the start and found myself a spot about 300m in from the start. I climbed up on a bank and got ready to shoot. During the classics, Neal Bates got a bit wide coming around the corner. Unfortunately, he didn’t save it and hit the bank with his rear end which promptly spun the front end into the bank. I’m guessing as he was on opposite lock when it happened, when the front end came into the bank, the driver’s wheel was pointing up the bank, so the car followed and he came up the bank (which was a good 4/5ft tall and pretty vertical). He luckily got away with it, as his car landed back down on it’s wheels further down the road and he carried on.
This stage claimed Tayler Jansen/Karl Celeste in their Datsun 1200. They came over a crest a bit too hot and got out of shape, which ended with the car on it’s roof. We came across them as we left the stage just as the recovery vehicle was putting the car the right way up. We stopped to see if they needed help and to check they were okay. Considering what they’d both just been through, I was amazed by their composure. They even posed for a photo or two. I felt completely gutted for them both as the car had looked mint earlier on, but now looked like a write off! Guys, it was an absolute pleasure to meet you both, it’s just a real shame it was under such crap circumstances.
On to SS14 next. The part of the road we walked in on had been used earlier in the day, but still looked promising. The corner I stood at was a fast left hander over a crest. Looking at the gravel, some driver had obviously gotten really wide on the exit the last time through. It was really cool to see the cars fly through here at speed. As Hawkeswood approached (out of my sight) all I could hear were all the spectators gasping. I can only assume he was on it. Seconds later, he blasted into view running a little wide onto the loose gravel and completely showering all the spectators with stones. Another car to catch my eye here was the V8 Capri of Tony Johnston as it appeared over the crest sliding sideways. Great to see.
Unfortunately that was the end of my Otago Rally as we had to head back into town for flights etc. It was very much a last minute thing for me to be able to go, but I will definitely be planning next year’s visit well in advance as I will definitely go back again. Such an awesome event.
Driver of the day
This really is a tough one this event. Hayden Paddon was fantastic to watch in the Escort, but I only got to see him twice due to his unfortunate “off”. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Ben Hunt during the Super Special Stage – he looked awesome sliding through the corners. Regan Ross was also great to watch in a very nice looking Mk2 Escort, but I think for this round my award goes to Derek Ayson. He drives with amazing commitment and always looks spectacular every time I see him come past. As mentioned earlier, he also gave the CEO of the Dunedin City Council the ride of her life during the Super Special, which was incredible to watch from where I was stood. Awesome stuff Derek!
Below is a small selection of the images taken during the event.