News of Martin’s return enough to leave smile on the face

By David Thomson on Sat, 4 Mar 2017

News that Estonian rally ace Markko Martin is returning to contest this year's Otago Rally was one of two motoring- related matters that have put a smile on my face this week.

Martin impressed in all regards in last year's Otago event. As well as driving in spectacular yet assured style to win the classic component of the event by a handy margin, he and co-driver Stephane Prevot were great ambassadors for the sport during their first visit to Dunedin.

It speaks volumes for the calibre of the Otago event that the pair are happy to fly to the other side of the world to defend their title in the Rossendale Team Ford Escort RS against what promises to be a tough line-up, including former Australian champion and renowned hard-charger Simon Evans (Datsun Stanza), and Kiwi-based former classic rally winners Derek Ayson (Escort) and Marcus van Klink (Mazda RX-7).

With this year's Otago Rally taking place over the earlier than usual dates of April 7-9, you can expect to see plenty more on the event in Drivesouth over the next few weeks.

The second motoring matter that had me smiling was the final leg of a Dunedin- Christchurch-Dunedin trip I undertook last weekend.

This is a 700km main highway haul that I generally count as a driving chore rather than a charm. Last weekend was a case in point, but one which came with an unexpected silver lining on the final 110km run from Oamaru to Dunedin.

Of all the component parts of the Dunedin- Christchurch haul, the Oamaru to Dunedin stretch is the only bit that traverses roads that are remotely enjoyable to drive. That drive is at its best when the traffic is free- flowing, and even more fun on the rare occasion when I strike a kindred spirit going my way who is keen to make the most of what the road has to offer, without being stupid about it.

Just such a spirit, driving a late-model Audi wagon, happened on the road last Sunday. Behind the wheel of the latest Subaru Impreza, I followed in the Audi's wake most of the way to Palmerston, then took a spell in front. The wave and thumbs up exchanged as ‘‘team Audi'' passed by for the final run over the Northern Motorway to Dunedin seemed to confirm that a fun time had been had by both parties during roughly an hour of informal convoy driving.

If, perchance, any members of ‘‘team Audi'' are reading this, thanks for making Dunedin to Oamaru on February 26 the most enjoyable journey of my 2017 motoring year so far.

David Thomson