How Otago fits into two separate championships

New Zealand rallying historian Chris Grant explains how the Otago fits into both the NZRC and APRC

Paddon Kennard Otago Rally 2021 by Buzz Haggarty 2Y5A3477

Otago Rally is one of the undisputed highlights of the New Zealand rallying calendar, as a round of both the national championship and the FIA regional series, the Asia Pacific Rally Championship.

That means entries are typically strong, hype is sky high and rallying fans treated to what is a wonderful spectacle.

But Otago hasn’t always been a round of both series. It’s time for another history lesson.

I could take the reins as I did earlier this week with a look to New Zealand’s rallying story, but I’ve one-upped myself. Allow us to introduce you to Chris Grant, New Zealand rallying historian and results coordinator at ChrisSport.

“Otago’s only been involved in the APRC for the last two seasons, and of course we forget 2020 because of Covid, so it’s had 2019 and 2021,” Grant explains.

“And that’s come about because FIA rules were in place prior to that [stating] that there could only be one round of an FIA championship in a country. When APRC began to stand on its own with unique events we had the Rally of Rotorua here in the mid 2000s, from 2007 on we created the Rally of Whangarei which is right up in the north and that uses what many will remember some of the WRC roads north of Auckland. That was the New Zealand round as limited by the FIA rules.

“In the APRC there was New Zealand, there was Australia – which started off as Canberra and became Queensland for their round – and there was also New Caledonia, so that created the trio of rallies that constituted the Pacific Cup element of the APRC. You then obviously had China, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and other ones that made up the Asia Cup portion, and combining them together gave you your APRC.

“But things began to trail off. New Caledonia ran out of steam or the ability to run a round so a third of the championship had been lost for the Pacific Cup. One of our main organizers Willard Martin, who was our clerk of the course on past WRC rounds, is on the APRC organizing committee and he and various other guys changed the format if you like of the APRC and ultimately Otago was sitting there, and common sense prevailed if you like.

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“They decided that they could effectively run two rallies in New Zealand and two in Australia to make up the Pacific Cup element, and they would tie up in conjunction with the Asian events and each year one would rotate as being the final rally of the championship – one in the Asian region one year and one in the Pacific region the next year.

“Otago was one of the new guys to join APRC because of the change in APRC rules I guess is the best way to paraphrase it.”

But Otago’s position within the New Zealand Rally Championship couldn’t be more different.

“Otago goes the other way from the APRC, it’s the longest standing round in the New Zealand Rally Championship,” says Grant.

Otago has traditionally been the opening round of the championship so that in itself is a major feature Chris Grant

“It’s run consecutively, apart from the COVID year in 2020, every year since 1994 and with the same organizing team – Norman and his brother Roger [Oakley]. What makes it unique is, depending on when the APRC calendar has been struck in years gone by that’s sometimes determined that Whangarei has gone first, but Otago has traditionally been the opening round of the championship so that in itself is a major feature because everyone’s getting new cars, new co-drivers, all that sort of stuff.

“It’s the first chance of a new season for everyone to get together so it has a real vibe, and I can tell you standing in The Octagon in the center of Dunedin at the start last year, having not had a year because of COVID, it really was like a massive family reunion.”

The stages are corkers too – but perhaps not what those outside the Pacific would consider ‘typical’ New Zealand rally stages.

“The attraction is the unique nature of the roads and they are fairly unique in New Zealand in that they’re fast, flowing but incredibly cresty roads,” Grant describes.

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“It’s the southern hemisphere version of Finland in some aspects, it’s not got the camber that the Whangarei and WRC Rally New Zealand stages in the north have got, so it’s quite a very different driving technique to get the best out of the roads. It keeps bringing everyone back and it lures in the new people

“They don’t tend to have a lot of repeated stages, because they have such a wide area and territory that they can call on for their stages. In fact, I think one of the policies is they tend to alternate areas year by year so they therefore give an area a rest as far as the residents go, they’re not coming back every year for the same old, same old so it freshens the rally up.

“This year they go further to the north of Dunedin to start off with and then come back down to the traditional areas to the south-west of Dunedin for the second day, whereas other times they’re pushed further south.

“Kuri Bush, Waipori Gorge and Whare Flat are just cornerstone stages which are an attraction in their own right for people who’ve not done the rally before, they’ve heard all about it, they’ve seen the videos and gone ‘I want to have a go at those roads.’

“They also run a Saturday-only option so if competitors want to come down and do the rally and then go watching on the Sunday, they can.”

I want to go, I really, really do. Grant assures me I have a place to stay if I ever make it out there.

And that’s New Zealand rallying in a nutshell. Incredible stages, incredible atmosphere but most of all, simply incredible people.