Rallying in New Zealand’s a lot like a box of chocolates. Which one do you choose? They’re all so good.
For Hayden Paddon, Otago Rally is the go-to. The Dunedin-based event is the Kiwi’s very own caramel-dipped hazelnut wrapped in milk chocolate. And it’s not hard to see why.
“It’s not just about the roads,” the man chasing his 10th Otago win later this month tells DirtFish. “There’s so much to Otago Rally – it’s a special one.”
But what makes it special in a land of special rallies?
“It’s a combination of everything. It’s the classic cars [competing in the ENEOS Motor Oils Otago Classic Rally] running alongside the New Zealand Rally Championship cars. Having the classics up front with the field reversed running straight into the top national cars gives the fans something really special: in the space of an hour or so, you’ve seen a really wide variety of rally cars all pushing pretty hard. People love that.
“To be honest, from the moment you step into the car on the Friday evening, there’s something special about the event. It’s a really cool vibe.”
Working on the route is another key factor – that’s something Otago has well and truly nailed down.
“Rog and Norm [Oakley – the brothers that form part of the team behind the event] are pushing all the time down there. They’re always looking to think outside of the box and to do something just a little bit different.
“For the route, they rotate the stages, so you can go three, four or even five years between using the same roads in the same configuration. When you come to this event, you always have the feeling of it being a fresh rally every time. That’s pretty rare.
“I guess the famous one, the staple year-in-year-out would be Kuri Bush. That’s a really nice stage and it’s the one everybody seems to talk about – but there’s more to Otago than just that one stage. They’re all great.
“Being that bit further south, they don’t have the same kind of camber associated with some of the stages further north.
“The stages in Otago are generally a bit flatter. On this year’s route the stages to the north [of Dunedin] are a bit more slippery – there’s a particular sort of gravel up there – and maybe not as fast as last year. On Sunday it’s into the forests for roads which are different to really anything else we do in the New Zealand Championship and then there’s the faster roads towards Kurri Bush and out towards the coast.
“There are three fairly distinct kinds of roads used this year. But they’re all good.”
And then there’s Dunedin itself.
“It’s definitely the right-sized city to host a rally,” added Paddon. “Any bigger and you might lose the rally in there, but any smaller and you wouldn’t have the eyeballs. It’s a great place and somewhere that really embraces the rally.
“These are all the reasons why Otago is probably my favorite rally of the season. The objective this year? To win it for the 10th time…”
Otago Rally runs out of Dunedin from March 31 – April 2.
And, just to be clear, caramel-dipped hazelnuts and other chocolate alternatives will be available throughout the event.
Otago Rally. Seriously, what’s not love?