Markko Märtin was slightly taken aback by the question. He hadn’t seen this one coming.
He smiled, thinking through his answer.
“I think you know me quite well,” he said. “I think you know that I don’t like to spend too long travelling to rallies. So, this one must be good if I go to the other side of the world twice in two years for it.”
What was he talking about? Otago, of course.
And it really is that good.
If you don’t believe Markko, just ask Jimmy McRae. Or Alister. Or Mads Østberg. Hayden Paddon might be a touch biased. Michèle Mouton and her co-driver Fabrizia Pons aren’t.
Pons: “This event, I love this event. One day I will live in this country. The roads, the people, everything in New Zealand is perfect.”
And that’s especially true when it comes to Dunedin and its Otago Rally.
DirtFish is delighted to be partnering with one of the world’s finest events for the second year in succession. As March moves into April, we can think of nowhere we’d rather be than south-east coast of New Zealand’s South Island.
This year’s event will offer the usual range of rallies. The whole event comes under the Drivesouth Rallyfest umbrella, with the Winmax Brakes Otago National Championship Rally running for the FIA Asia Pacific and New Zealand Rally Championship points. This is where we’ll find Hayden Paddon and Emma Gilmour doing battle.
Then there’s the ENEOS Motor Oils Otago Classic Rally for pre-1987 two-wheel drive cars. Step forward – finally – Mikko Hirvonen. The Finn is flying south after a couple of COVID-enforced false starts. Hirvonen in the world’s most famous Ford Escort will be a sight to behold.
There’s also the Leviathan Hotel Otago Allcomers Rally, which runs the full two days for both NZRC and Classic competitors.
And we’re not done yet! There’s the Otago Classic 4WD Rally for pre-1996 Group A or classic cars. And finally, there’s a one-dayer for those only able to make Saturday.
Talking of Saturday April 1, there’s seven stages to the north of Dunedin, using roads west of Oamaru last run in 2018. There’s no easing your way into this thing, Ridge Road is a 12-miler out of the blocks before eight o’clock in the morning.
Danseys Pass (SS6) will be a favorite, but if it’s airtime you’re after, look one stage later at the famous jump in Shag Valley Back Road.
As usual the streets of Dunedin will come alive on Saturday afternoon, when the cars tackle a stage through the center of the city. And don’t forget, no slicks allowed, it’s knobblies only to keep the fans on their toes.
Sunday runs both sides of the Taieri Plains with the service park on the shores of Lake Waihola. As well as some new mileage for this year, classics like Waipori Gorge and, of course, Kuri Bush are back.
With the weekend almost done, it’s all back to Dunedin for unanimous agreement with Markko Märtin.
Known as the Edinburgh of the south – the name Dunedin is derived from the Scottish Gàidhlig name for Edinburgh – Dunedin is an enthusiastic supporter of the Otago Rally. That’s something that hasn’t changed for close on half a century.
And, according to the mayor of Dunedin Jules Radich, won’t be changing any time soon.
“The city has supported the Otago Rally for many years because of its very tangible returns,” said Radich. “It repeatedly brings thousands of visitors to the city to view world-class competition, while also showcasing much of what we are proud of – our beautiful city, wonderful scenic hinterland, the involvement of the community and volunteers and our relaxed way of life.”
Relaxed is absolutely right, apart from 15 occasions through the weekend, when more than 100 co-drivers will say the words: “Three, two, one, go…”
Otago Rally runs from March 31 until April 2. For all the details, stay with DirtFish.