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Escorts take charge in Otago Classic Rally battle

Regan Ross holds a commanding 23.4 second lead in the Stadium Cars International Otago Classic Rally after a dominant opening day in his Ford Escort RS1800.

Regan Ross SS1 Day 1Regan Ross lifts a wheel on his way to the Day 1 lead in the Otago Classic Rally. (Photo: Peter Whitten)Ross and co-driver Lisa Hudson had a ding-dong battle with the similar Ford Escort of ex-WRC star, Estonian Markko Martin, but blitzed the field on the day’s fourth stage, winning the 32km test by nearly 20 seconds.

Martin and co-driver Stephane Prevot lie second, 35.1 seconds ahead of Gore’s Derek Ayson and Australian co-driver, Catriona Kelly, in their Nissan-powered Ford Escort.

The pace in the classics has been hot, with former winner Marcus van Klink sitting in fourth place in his Mazda RX7 after a spin on stage five dropped him down the order, while another Mazda RX7, that of John Silcock, is fifth, two and a quarter minutes from the lead.

Event sponsor, Tony Gosling, dropped from fifth to sixth on the Dunedin super special stage, but is still well within striking distance of the top five.

It wasn’t such a great day for the Australians. Four-time national champion, Simon Evans, was seventh in his Datsun Stanza after three stages, but retired on stage four with mechanical problems.

Markko Martin SS3 Day 1Estonia’s Markko Martin is still hopeful of back-to-back Otago Rally wins. (Photo: Peter Whitten)Meanwhile, Dunedin-based Queenslander, John Spencer, had a broken rear axle and ignition problems in his Datsun 1600, dropping him out of contention.

Day 2 of the rally sees the event head south of Dunedin for some of the event’s famous stages, including Whare Flat, Waipori Gorge, McIntosh Road, and the world-renowned Kuri Bush.

After a further seven stages, the rally finishes back at the Dunedin Railway Station at 3pm.

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