Hirvonen’s Otago wait is nearly over

The ex Ford driver couldn't resist the temptation of driving a MkII Escort in New Zealand

Wales Rally GB, Chester 13-16 11 2014

It was the deal that seemed destined never to come to fruition. And then it did. Now Mikko Hirvonen can’t stop smiling.

When it comes to cars, the Finn’s a huge fan of Ford’s Escort RS1800. When it comes to roads, his native Finland is hard to beat. But New Zealand’s right up there. No wonder, the 15-time world rally winner was so keen to take the Otago Rally organizers up on their offer of an outing.

It just took him a while.

Like six years.

“In the end,” Hirvonen told DirtFish, “I told them: ‘OK, now I’m not going to say yes anymore. I’m not going to promise you anything!’ Every time we agreed something then something came up and I couldn’t go. In the start, it was preparing for Dakar and then the Dakar.

“And then in the last few years it was COVID and I couldn’t do it.”

Now? The flights are booked, Hirvonen and his co-driver Jarno Ottman are looking forward to the end March and planet earth’s far side.

“The travel is long, but it’s a MkII in New Zealand… what’s not to love?”

Hirvonen finished on the Rally New Zealand podium four times and remains a big fan of the Kiwis and their stages.

“I’ve never been to the South Island roads before,” he said, “but New Zealand is a fantastic place. From what I’ve been told the roads are a bit faster than the ones we used [at Rally New Zealand]. Let’s face it, they will be amazing! I’m so happy to be finally going and I’m so thankful to the organizers for making this happen. I’m sure it’s going to be a very memorable event!”

Asked about the famous, ex-Mikkola, Mouton, McRae, Vatanen, Kankkunen, Märtin, Wåldegard Team Rossendale RS1800 he’s driving, Hirvonen replied: “I didn’t know all of those people had driven it. F*****g hell, it’s probably better I didn’t know that! Should I be driving that car? I definitely don’t want to crash this one…

“Seriously, it’s a great car and a proper rally with more than 200 kilometers of stages. It’s going to be fantastic.”

ENEOS Otago International Classic Rallies Roger Oakley was similarly chuffed to have finally landed the Finn.

“It’s great to have Mikko and Jarno with us,” he said. “He’s right, it has taken a while to sort this one out – but we persisted because we were so keen to get Mikko in this MkII. We know how much he loves them.

“It was good to see him out in his own car [on February’s Palokka Ralli] getting some testing in for Otago! It’s going to be fantastic to have him down here with us, following in the footsteps and behind the wheel of the same Ford as so many of his fellow flying Finns.”

Dunedin’s Otago Rally runs from March 31 until April 2.

Words:David Evans