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International battle at 2012 Otago Rally

Geoff PortmanA big contingent of Australian rally drivers are heading to May’s International Classic Rally of Otago to take on the best Kiwis and Welsh rally star, Gwyndaf Evans.

Led by a two-car team of Ford Escort RS1800s from the Grant Walker Parts workshop in Melbourne, at least six Aussies have already submitted entries for the three-day event, to be held out of Dunedin on May 25-27.

Two-time Australian Rally Champion and former Datsun factory driver,
Geoff Portman (pictured), will head the assault with the intention of winning the
event, while team boss, Grant Walker, will drive the second team car.

Portman’s car is his own, and the one in which he convincingly won last
year’s Alpine Rally in Victoria, while Walker will lease a car from
respected Christchurch car builder, and former Otago Rally winner, Deane

Portman has contested the Otago Rally before, and will be well known to
New Zealanders after driving a Holden Commodore to third place in the
2010 Silver Fern Rally.

Queenslander Stewart Reid will drive another, with a real claim to the
top step of the podium, particularly after he led the event last year,
before mechanical problems struck.  This was a stunning drive, as the
man he was leading being non other than 1981 World Champion Ari Vatanen.

Ed Mulligan will drive another Escort, while David Thompson will make
his Otago Rally debut behind the wheel of his thundering V8 Ford Falcon
XY GT and is sure to thrill the thousands of fans lining the stages.

New Zealand’s best classic rally drivers won’t be keen to see the trophy
head across the Tasman, however, with multiple event winner, Derek
Ayson, another front runner in his Nissan-engined Escort Mk 2, while
Marcus van Klink (Mazda RX7) and Robert Van Gisbergen (Escort BDA) will
also be well in the mix.

Whether any of these drivers can match the pace of former British Rally
Champion, Gwnday Evans, remains to be seen. The popular Welshman won
last year’s Roger Albert Clark (RAC) Rally in an Escort, and despite his
unfamiliarity with the stages, he will definitely be one to watch.

Event spokesman Roger Oakley said he was delighted with the interest in the event.

“We haven’t yet opened the event for entries, but already we have an absolutely fantastic top six,” he said.  

“By the time entries close and top kiwis join the battle, we are going
to have a real spectacle, with any of the top 10 being good enough to
take the win.  The combination of the fantastic roads, the level of
competition, and the genuine camaraderie between the competitors makes
this event a privilege to be involved with.”

Competition in the 2012 Otago Rally will begin on Friday night, May 25,
with three stages close to the city, totalling nearly 60 kilometres in

The night stages were reintroduced in 2011, with competitors and
spectators enjoying the opportunity to watch some of the best rally
drivers light up the forests.

The rally heads north of Dunedin on Saturday morning for seven gravel
stages, with the day finishing with the tarmac street stage around the
city after over 115 competitive kilometres.

Stages include Shag Valley, a couple of new stages and a return to Waikouaiti, a stage not used in the event for many years.

The final day, Sunday, will provide a real sting in the tail for the
remaining competitors, with a further six stages and over 130km,
including two stages of at least 25km, and a marathon new 45km test
through the Berwick Forest, which will be the penultimate of the rally.

Along with the International Classic Rally of Otago, the event also
includes round three of the New Zealand Rally Championship, and the
popular Allcomers event.

Photo: John Doutch

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