Battle of the BDAs in Classic Rally
Atrio of Ford Escort RS1800s will lead the field in the 2023 Eneos Motor Oil Otago International Classic Rally, however, there will be rich competition from experienced campaigners up and down the field.
Heading the entry list is Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen, who will compete alongside countryman Jarno Ottman on the ex-WRC driver’s first visit to New Zealand since 2012.
Hirvonen has competed here on several occasions, but this is his first time competing on the South Island roads that have become so famous.
After a pre-event test on Wednesday, Hirvonen complimented the Rossendale Wines Ford Escort RS1800 and said that he was looking forward to the rally.
“The car works fine, there’s no question about it, so it’s up to me to get up to speed and have a good feeling with everything,” he said.
While he’ll be targeting the win, Hirvonen is also looking to enjoy an event that he has missed the chance to compete in on a number of occasions.
Posing the biggest threat to the number one seeded driver is multiple winner of the International Classic Rally, Deane Buist.
The Christchurch driver has won the event on the last two occasions, each in different cars, and will be trying to make it ‘three in three’ this time around.
His first win at the event came in a Ford Escort in 2007, and winning it again in a similar car will be some feat. The Escort is arguably where Buist feels most comfortable, but his wins in a Volkswagen Golf GTI and Group B Toyota Celica have emphasised his class.
Not only does he have the competition of Hirvonen to deal with, but the top-seeded local hero also has the likes of Jeff Judd (Ford Escort), John Silcock (Mazda RX7) and Shane Murland (Ford Escort) behind him.
Silcock is the only man in the top five seeds that is not driving an RS1800, and the Mazda RX7 will be one to watch at the event. RX7s have typically gone well in the Classic Rally, with Marcus van Klink winning the event in 2012.
An Australian flavour marks the next spots on the entry list with ex-pat, John Spencer’s Datsun 1600 and Stewart Reid’s Mazda RX7 in seeds six and seven.
Reid has competed at the Otago Rally on many occasions and will expand his 2023 program to include the entire New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) in the recently-purchased Mazda.
Tony Gosling, a former podium place-getter at the Otago Rally, will begin his 2023 event from the eighth seed and will be welcomed back to the Classic Rally for the first time in over five years.
In all, 33 cars will compete in the classic section that covers 15 stages across the weekend, beginning north of the city near Oamaru on Saturday.
Sunday traverses south to traditional stages that include Waipori Gorge, Berwick and Kuri Bush, completing over 250 competitive kilometres across both days.
The Eneos Motor Oil Otago International Classic Rally teams run in reverse order after the 4WD Classic Rally and before the NZRC competitors.