Hard-driving Aussie up for Datsun challenge

By David Thomson on Sat, 1 Apr 2017

With competitors flocking to the event in record numbers and some top names among them, next weekend's Drivesouth Rally Fest is set to continue the great tradition of the Otago Rally in style.

This edition of Drivesouthdoubles as the official rally programme for this all-action April 7-9 event.

I am especially delighted to welcome back former WRC stars Markko Martin and Stephane Prevot. The classic component of the Otago Rally has attracted many past superstars of the WRC over the years. In most cases, they have come for a one-off visit, and their positive comments about contesting the Dunedin-based event has encouraged others to follow. But it's an even more powerful statement of international appeal when a former WRC ace like Markko Martin enthusiastically accepts the invitation for a return visit.

I wish Martin and Prevot all the best as they set out to defend the classic rally crown they won in convincing style last year. This pairing is going to be hard to beat in the classic component of the event, but I know that top Kiwi classic drivers Regan Ross, Marcus van Klink, Derek Ayson and visiting Australian Simon Evans will keep them honest.

As Catherine Pattison explains in this weekend's lead story, there's been so much change in the booming national championship component of the event that picking a likely winner at this point is near impossible.

Sticking with rallying, but across the Tasman, the number of rallying folk in Australia's Motorsport Hall of Fame has doubled following the latest round of inductions. Joining previous inductees Colin Bond, Ross Dunkerton and ‘‘Gelignite'' Jack Murray is New Zealand's own Possum Bourne, along with top Aussie driver Neal Bates and his long-time co-driver Coral Taylor.

While many local fans will not be familiar with ‘‘Gelignite'' Jack Murray (he was winner of the gruelling 1954 REDeX round Australia trial and a pioneer of the London-Sydney Marathon Rally), the other five have all competed here in Otago.

Bond rallied on our roads when the 1973 Heatway Rally included the South Island in its route (he finished the event fourth). Dunkerton has contested both the Otago Rally and Race to the Sky Hillclimb, finishing on the podium in the former. Possum Bourne's name will, of course, be forever associated with Race to the Sky. Bates and Taylor showed the class that took them to so many Australian titles by winning the Otago Classic Rally in both 2013 and 2014.

Returning from the past to the present, a key ingredient of success for the Otago event remains the continual tweaking of its format by the organisers.

2017 is no different, with special stages around Lawrence (where the rally is based next Saturday) included for the first time since 2014. Sunday's route has a more familiar look to it, taking in the Berwick and Otago coastal forests, and finishing with popular Kuri Bush and McIntosh Rd stages.

We have included the full entry list, route map and other key information in this preview edition of Drivesouth, to make following the event as easy as possible. I hope to see you out there.

David Thomson