Otago rally entry one for the record books, great for city

By David Thomson on Sat, 18 Mar 2017

News that next month's Drivesouth Otago Rally has attracted a massive entry of more than 130 crews has sent me, and others, scampering through the archives to see what kind of record this represents.

There's absolutely no doubt that the entries submitted for the April 7-9 event are the most received for at least 30 years. I am also fairly confident that it's the largest entry for the Dunedin-based event since its inception in 1976.

In recent years, the only events that have bettered this year's Otago entry appear to be the all-tarmac Targa and Taranaki rallies; the former attracted a huge field of 207 in 2002. The recent record for a gravel round of the National Rally Championship would seem to be the 1997 Gisborne Rally, with 117 entries and an eventual 103 starters. Before then, I know for sure that an Auckland- based round of the 1979 national championship boasted 131 starters.

I am picking that Otago's entry tally will translate into about 120-125 actual starters. That would equate to the largest number of starters for a national championship event since 1979 and, quite possibly, the largest for a rally in the South Island.

One thing for certain is that an entry of this size adds up to great news for the Dunedin economy come rally weekend. More than 100 of the entrants are coming from out of town, and more than half of those are from the North Island or overseas.

Once service crews and hangers-on as well as drivers and co-drivers are counted, I reckon that totals near 1000 visitors in Dunedin for rally weekend and, for most, a couple of days before that as well.

While the Otago Rally is something to look forward to, I found last weekend a bittersweet one on the international stage.

Hayden Paddon secured his best result of the 2017 WRC season with a fifth place in Mexico. However, he had been third overall and the best of the three Hyundai team drivers before a mechanical gremlin intervened to cost him precious time late on the event's second day. He remains ninth in the championship standings heading for the next event, which will be held on the Mediterranean island of Corsica at the same time as the Otago Rally.

There was also mechanical drama for Scott Dixon in the opening round of the 2017 Indycar season in Florida, but he was able to recover well, storming back from 14th place to finish third.

Last and certainly not least, former Formula One world champion John Surtees died, aged 83, last week. Surtees' claim to fame was his status as a world champion on two and four wheels; he switched to racing cars after a glittering career on motorbikes, and secured the 1964 F1 world championship driving for Ferrari after a season-long battle with fellow Brits Jim Clark and Graham Hill.

It is probably fair to say that Surtees was revered in Italy even more than in England. I've seen it written elsewhere that this was due to his success racing for Ferrari (which spanned sports car events as well as grands prix). That's true to an extent, but it's also worth remembering that Surtees won all four of his 500cc world motorcycle titles (1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960) as a factory rider for the Italian MV Agusta team.

Surtees will also be remembered by older Drivesouth readers as he raced cars in this country several times during the 1960s. His crowning achievement here was winning the 1963 New Zealand Grand Prix, which was the first to be held at the then new Pukekohe circuit.

David Thomson