With stunning weather, a record field, and close competition for the top places, last weekend's Drivesouth Otago Rally Fest was a memorable event for drivers, crews, officials and spectators alike. There were several standouts for me.
These included the epic battle for classic rally honours between Markko Martin and Regan Ross, and the superb drive that secured South Otago's Rhys Gardner third overall in the main event.
South Otago has produced a number of handy rally drivers over the years: older readers might remember John Metherell in the 1970s, while more recent exponents to compete with distinction on either the South Island or national stage include the likes of Dean Bond, Duncan McCrostie and (though he lives in Southland these days) Derek Ayson.
But it is unprecedented, I think, to see a South Otago driver battle at the sharp end of the national championship pack as Gardner did last weekend. Having enjoyed previous success in local events, he has now made his mark nationally.
While Gardner took the local limelight, several other Otago crews performed well in their home event last weekend.
They included two couples, in James and Aimee Mitchell and Richie and Rachel Chadwick. The Mitchells secured 11th place in the one-day Mainland (South Island) Championship component event with a strong performance on Saturday, and came close to securing a top-20 result overall. The Chadwicks, meantime, were the top-placed Otago crew in the classic rally before striking trouble at the start of leg two (after which Allan Dippie and Paul Coghill pushed on to take local honours in the classic event).
Looking beyond Otago drivers, I was delighted to see John Silcock secure third place overall in the classic rally. A former outright Otago Rally winner, Rangiora-based Silcock is a quality driver easing his way back into the sport via classic rallying. It was great also to see two-time Otago Rally winner and three-time national champion Bruce Herbert (Manawatu) back for what I reckon was the first time in close to 15 years.
Hard-charging overseas guests Frank Kelly (Ireland) and Simon Evans (Australia) also provided plenty of entertainment. Kelly upped the profile of the Otago Rally internationally, with his online posts _ all raving about the event _ garnering a strong social media following.
This weekend is another busy one for local motoring enthusiasts and, once again, for quite a few visitors travelling to Otago for motoring-related fun. I'd like to extend a special welcome to those in Dunedin for this year's Holden Federation national gathering. This is the first time Holden nationals have been held in Dunedin since the mid-1990s, and I am sure the hard-working local organisers have worked up a great programme. Non-participants interested in taking a look at the vehicles for this event should note that today is Holden nationals show day, with the cars on display at the Edgar Centre from 9am to 4pm.
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