Otago’s apparent production line delivering rallying royalty to the Dunedin roads is showing no sign of stopping with World Rally Champions Petter Solberg, Marcus Grönholm and Carlos Sainz just some of the names on the list for the coming seasons.
Mikko Hirvonen was the latest driver to star in Brent Rawson’s Ford Escort RS1800, a car he annually offers to one of the sport’s biggest names for a cameo appearance on the South Island stages.
Rawson will work with Otago organizers as he looks to secure the 2024 star driver, but he admitted Hirvonen’s success on the Classic Rally element of the event might have booked a return for the 15-time world rally winner.
“We do have a bit of a track record for bringing the winner back again,” said the owner of the Rossendale Escort.
“It was really top notch to have Mikko in the car – the star pulling power was amazing. He has a fantastic personality and it was fantastic to have him here. It would be great to have him back.
“We do have a few on the list we’re hoping to bring here, of course. There’s Petter [Solberg], Carlos [Sainz] and we’d like to bring Valentino Rossi – that would be fantastic. Maybe Mikko will go home and tell Marcus Grönholm how good it is. Let’s see if we can get the seat far enough back in the Escort, I’m sure we can!”
Hirvonen is, however, likely to go home and switch his phone off. He’s keen to be back again.
“I definitely want to come back,” he said. “The roads, the rally, the people and, of course, Brent’s car were all amazing.”
Overall Otago winner – and the only driver to win the modern incarnation of the event in an Escort RS1800 – Hayden Paddon is thinking bigger.
“In the perfect world,” he said, “I’d bring two or three of them down here and have a fantastic battle of ex-world champions. There are plenty of good BDAs in this part of the world and, I’m sure, enough people in New Zealand to make it happen.”
Unwilling to miss out on such a fight, Paddon’s thinking about a special Hyundai Pony.
“I’m sure we could recreate a Pony with some classic running gear in it and have a go – you wouldn’t want to miss out on that.”