It’s the moment all rally organizers keenly anticipate but secretly dread: entries for their event opening. Will the rally attract enough drivers, and indeed a nice mix of drivers to create a compelling spectacle?
The stress isn’t neutered by the time that question is answered though, as soon it’s time for those entries to be seeded. Deciding who runs where on the road is a rigorous – and sometimes controversial – process.
The Otago Rally organizer hasn’t had too many worries over the years, and 2022 has proved no different.
A fantastic entry of over 100 cars will kickstart the New Zealand rallying season early next month, including World Rally Championship stars, local legends and even Olympic gold medalists.
“We’re delighted with the huge entry of 108 competitors,” Roger Oakley, one of the chief organizers, told DirtFish.
“There’s real class and depth to the field and given that there can be no internationals this year due to COVID-19, it is close to an all-time record for Kiwi entrants. 2022 is the year that the WRC returns to NZ and the enthusiasm in the rally community is on a high.”
You can say that again. Hayden Paddon is the headline entrant in his Hyundai i20 AP4, but 2015 NZ rally champion Ben Hunt, who’s got hold of a Škoda Fabia R5, McLaren Extreme E racer Emma Gilmour and established stars Robbie Stokes, Raana Horan and Josh Marston are all in the mix too.
“The national championship is very strong this year,” Oakley explained. “With 52 teams entered across a range of classes for the Otago Rally, it shows a real variety and enthusiasm for rallying.
“At the top end, we have nine different manufacturers represented in the top 10 seeds, which is a big endorsement of the compatibility and popularity of the AP4 and R5 classes.
“There are 19 top-line AP4 or R5 entries, and it is going to be hugely competitive. While everyone will be chasing Hayden Paddon, any of the competitors in the top dozen could take out the event. You get some idea of this when you see former Otago Rally winner Todd Bawden seeded 11th in a brand new Fiesta R5 Evo2.”
But it isn’t just the modern field that’s worth watching. As always on the Otago Rally, the classic rally is just a big draw with a competitive four-wheel-drive and international classic entry.
“The Eneos Otago Classic Rally field has always been a crowd favorite, these cars are spectacular,” said Oakley. “They’ll run in reverse seeded order in front of the NZRC which is very popular with the spectators.
“Preparations are now largely all in place, COVID-19 restrictions in NZ have eased as of last week which means unrestricted access for the public, with the popular ceremonial start in the center of Dunedin.
“At its heart, the Otago Rally wants to be a celebration of all things that are great about our sport. We can’t wait!”