Last time we were there, Malcolm Wilson wanted to throw Ott Tänak into the Auckland harbor. And not in a good way. The last time we were there, Sébastien Ogier wasn’t there. He was sitting at home, still dreaming of his first world championship title.
It’s been a while since the world of rallying has visited the Pacific’s southwest. It’s been a decade since the World Rally Championship lit up the New Zealand gravel. That all ends this year as the WRC heads south to the North Island. And, let’s face it, unless you’re jetting in from Patagonia or Antarctica, we’re all southbound.
And we’re all very, very excited.
Rally New Zealand has always been one of the favorites among the DirtFish crowd. And if you’re wondering why, let’s rewind 10 years and talk to then FIA rally director Jarmo Mahonen, that most Finnish of Finns. Stepping out of a car, having been driven through Waipu Gorge, he smiled thinly.
“And there,” he said, “was me thinking Finland had the best roads in the world…”
If ever New Zealand needed a ringing endorsement for its stages, that was it. Right there.
But why wait until the fall (or spring, if you’re fortunate enough to be native to the land of the long white cloud) for epic rally action?
The Otago Rally opens the Brian Green Property New Zealand Rally Championship and runs out of the fabulous city of Dunedin between April 8-10.
For those not so familiar with the geography of New Zealand, Otago runs on the South Island. The roads are different inland from a city marked by its combination of Māori and Scottish heritage (Dunedin actually takes its name from the Scots Gaelic name for Edinburgh, capital of Scotland). There’s less camber and more pure speed.
Admittedly, names like Kuri Bush and Shag Valley aren’t quite as well known as Whaanga Coast, Brooks or Batley, but they’re just as much of a challenge.
Have a look at this onboard from a Hayden Paddon-handled Ford Escort RS1800 in 2015.
Something very special happened on the International Rally of Otago that year. Paddon won the event outright in a Mk2 that was older than himself. Watch that onboard again and you’ll understand how he managed to edge Phil Campbell’s Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX by 2.6 seconds.
In little over a month, rallying in New Zealand returns for the start of a new and very much improved season. A season that brings the best in the world back. A season that starts with a vengeance in Otago.
Keep an eye out on DirtFish for a variety of New Zealand and Otago-themed features and videos. Ever wanted to know, for example, what the difference is between an AP4 car and a Rally2? We’ll tell you. Or, if you’ve ever wanted to know how an RS1800 can beat one of the world’s most recognizable drivers in one of the world’s most recognizable four-wheel drive cars… stay tuned.
And for those of you wondering why Wilson might have considered hoofing the 2019 world champion into the Hauraki Gulf, think back to Tänak’s departure from the 2012 Rally New Zealand. Remember when he chucked the Ford Fiesta RS WRC at a Puhoi right-hander a gear too high and disappeared into the final-day trees?
Yep, that’s the reason.
As for Ogier, 2012 was his Volkswagen-Škoda season. They focused on developing the Polo R WRC rather than flying a pair of Fabia S2000s into Auckland.
Good as the Polo turned out, I’d still have gone with the Škoda-Aotearoa option.