International drivers flood rally


New Zealand’s open borders mean an influx of international entries have been able to flood into this weekend’s Otago Rally.

The start list features no fewer than 19 overseas drivers.

They hail from Australia, Japan, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and the Philippines, and the imports are headlined by a multiple World Rally Championship runner-up, Finn Mikko Hirvonen, who will contest the Otago Classic Rally.

Hirvonen is the hot favourite in the Ford Escort RS1800, but will face fierce domestic challenges from a Christchurch pair, three-time classic winner Deane Buist and Jeff Judd, both driving similarly fast Fords.

The New Zealand Rally Championship category is also studded with internationals.

Popular Australian driver Richie Dalton peddles New Zealand driver Kingsley Jones’ Skoda Fabia R5 at Otago.

Joining him in the field is Eugene Creugnet, of New Caledonia, a regular visitor to the championship before Covid, who will drive the ex-Brian Green Mitsubishi Mirage AP4.

After competing in Rally New Zealand last year, Pierre-Henri Brunet, of Vanuatu, will compete in the ex-Jack Hawkeswood/Glenn Inkster Force Motorsport Mazda 2 AP4.

The New Zealand drivers hold sway however, as Hayden Paddon leads the charge in his Hyundai i20 N Rally2 and is no doubt on a mission to win his 10th Otago Rally.

His high-spec machine is seeded first among a group of 17 late-model R5, Rally2 or AP4 cars that top the national field.

Rapidly rising Cromwell-based star Ari Pettigrew sits in third position on the start list in his Holden Barina AP4.

Right behind him is Dunedin local Emma Gilmour, debuting her new Citroen C3 Rally2.

Like Paddon, who won the European Rally Championship’s opening round in Portugal recently, Gilmour is fresh from an overseas venture in the Extreme E series. Along with McLaren team-mate Tanner Foust, Gilmour finished seventh in the series opener in Saudi Arabia.

Stiff competition at the front of the field will also come from two-time national champion Ben Hunt in his second season campaigning a Skoda Fabia R5, and Waikuku’s Robbie Stokes driving a Ford Fiesta AP4.

Olympic Games medallist Sarah Walker will make her rallying debut at the event.

The BMX racer is the latest in a line of high-profile New Zealand sports people to become a guest driver at the rally.

Walker will drive a non-turbocharged Subaru Impreza, one of eight similar 6-cylinder four-wheel-drive cars in the Otago Class 4WD category. It includes Otago entrants Russell Burgess, of Dunedin, and Queenstown drivers Nigel Ede and Tom Millken.

After a publicity start in Dunedin’s Octagon today from 5pm, the 15-stage, 250km competitive rally takes place to the north and south of the city tomorrow and Sunday.

Day one will use roads west of Oamaru with the service park based in Duntroon.

Tomorrow’s final stage will be the traditional tarmac super special on Dunedin’s Anzac Ave from 3.35pm.

Day two will be run on both sides of the Taieri plains and centred around the Lake Waihola domain service park. A mixture of new stages will be combined with rally favourites, such as Waipori Gorge, Taieri Beach and Kuri Bush.

An event map with spectator points can be downloaded from