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Otago Classic Rally – drivers to watch

It’s less than a week until the Dunlop International Otago Classic Rally fires into action in Dunedin, and South Island speedster, Deane Buist, will be out to take back-to-back victories in the two-day event.

But who will be Buist’s biggest threat for victory, and will a chance of car dampen the champion’s chances?

We look at some of the drivers to watch.


The greatest female rally driver of all time, Michele Mouton won four World Rally Championship events, and finished an agonising second in the 1982 WRC. It was only the unreliability of her Audi Quattro that gave the title to Walter Rohrl’s two-wheel drive Opel. This is Michele’s first visit to the Otago Rally, and she will drive a left-hand drive Ford Escort RS1800. It’s probably unrealistic to expect the 57-year old French lady to win the event (lack of experience of the Otago stages being the main reason), but she’ll attract a crowd wherever she goes and will be the event’s biggest drawcard.

A two-time winner of the Otago Rally, the former Subaru World Rally Team test driver has driven BDA Escorts on previous visits to the event. This year, however, he’ll drive a left-hand drive Porsche — the car that Alex Fiorio drove last year. Many believe that you need a BDA Escort to win the event, but Hagstrom is out to prove that not to be the case. Spectacular, fast, and a terrific guy to boot, the Finn should have a tremendous battle with Deane Buist as they strive for victory.

Last year’s run-away Otago Rally winner, the Christchurch driver finally had the luck in 2007 that enabled him to take victory. Many good judges are already predicting that Buist will back up his 2007 success with another win this year, but the Otago Rally is such a long and demanding event that anything can happen between the first and the last stage. Amazingly, Buist drives the event on the supplied pacenotes, but does not drive over the stages beforehand. It makes his victory from last year all the more remarkable. The biggest difference this year will be Buist’s car — although he’s running BDA Escort running gear, it will be moulded into a Toyota KE70 bodyshell, painted bright green! A shortage of Escort bodyshells at the Buist ‘Escort Agency’ has forced the switch. Will it slow him down? Only time will tell.

Driving the ex-Neil Allport Group B Mazda RX7, Murray has the speed to finish on the podium this year. The powerful Mazda — which still runs in the Mainfreight colours that Allport used in the mid-1980s — is a real weapon and sounds the part. Last year there were two RX7s that finished in the top 10 — Murray’s, and the car of Richard Kelsey. Don’t be surprised if that happens again this year.

Jeff Judd is one of those remarkable rally competitors who is just as handy behind the wheel as he is reading pacenotes. The popular Christchurch driver returns this year in his black Escort RS1800 and will be another driver pushing for a top five finish. Always exciting to watch, Otago Rally fans will be keenly awaiting his arrival on the stages.

A driver with plenty of ability, Derek Ayson drives a Mk 2 Escort that is very quick, but unlike his major rivals, his car is slightly different. Most Escorts run the popular (and expensive) BDA engine, but Ayson’s car sports a Nissan motor that produces similar horsepower, at a fraction of the cost. A driver who is just as fast in four-wheel drive cars, Ayson finished fourth in his Escort last year.

On his second Otago Rally in 2007, Snooks finished eighth in a Datsun Stanza built by his brother, Justyn. A former Victorian Rally Champion, the Melbourne-based Snooks is back with an even more powerful Datsun this year, and is keen to improve on his result from last year. With more experience of the Otago stages — and in particular the tricky public road stages — Snooks is well placed to push for a top five result.

Like Snooks, Australian Michael Boaden is back for his third attempt at the Otago Classic Rally. Tenth last year in an Escort with a 2-litre motor, Boaden has decided that he needs more power to challenge the front runners, and has slotted a Mazda Rotary motor into his Escort for 2008. The former New South Wales Rally Champion is a class act, and with his sister, Helen Cheers, calling the pacenotes, he’ll be one to watch.

Quickly becoming a legend in Australian and New Zealand rallying, Keith Callinan is best known for his Otago Rally performances in a thundering V8 Holden Monaro. After missing last year’s event because of marathon rally commitments, KC, with wife Mary-Anne in the co-driver’s seat, is back in 2008 with a brand new Ford Escort RS1800 that has been built in New Zealand especially for this year’s event. While he may not challenge for a top five position, the likeable Callinan will again be a crowd favourite. Hopefully, in 2008, Ford power will get him to the finish on Sunday afternoon.

Local Dunedin car dealer, Mark Laughton, drives one of the most unique rally cars in the event. A Hillman Avenger with a Rover V8 motor shoe-horned into the engine bay, his car is a work of art and always draws a strong following. The consistent Laughton always puts on a great show for the big Otago crowds — particularly around the tarmac super special stage on Anzac Avenue, and this year won’t be any different. Expect plenty of sideways, tyre squealing action.

Deb KibbleDeb Kibble during the 2007 Otago Rally.DEB KIBBLE
A former top class Group N competitor in the New Zealand Rally Championship, Kibble has recently taken more of an interest in classic rallying. Her car is a Mitsubishi Lancer Turbo that was formerly owned by Australian Ross Dunkerton. “Dunko” drove the Lancer in the Otago Rally a few years back, before selling the car to Kibble. While she’s not expected to challenge for a top five finish this year, the unique Lancer always attracts a loyal following.

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