Strong line-up for NZ round of APRC

This weekend’s Otago Rally returns to the roads of southern New Zealand with a line-up of entrants including former FIA Asia Pacific Rally Champion Gaurav Gill.

Three-time champion Gill (2013, 2016, 2017) will contest the qualifying round for the 2024 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) aboard the Hayden Paddon winning Hyundai i20N Rally 2 car. Alongside is kiwi co-driver Jared Hudson.

Having regularly contested events in the north, Otago Rally is a first visit for the 42-year-old Gill.

“This was a bucket list opportunity. These cars are hard to get in this part of the world so knowing Hayden was going to be away and the car available was the perfect opportunity. Plus too Otago is special – the roads are fast so is a great way to do an event in a top car,” said Gill.

Pre-event testing came to an early halt for Gill when a spin ended with impacting a rock.

“It is part and parcel of the sport – finding the limit, and I did. The car was setup for Hayden so I was getting the feel for it and we were five runs in when I found that limit, spinning at a junction. We now understand the car setup and what direction setup changes make.

“For the rally we will take it as it comes and focus on getting to the finish.”

Gaurav Gill
For the Paddon Racing Group run car, repairs are expected to be complete ahead of Friday’s ceremonial start.

Joining Gill at contesting one of the qualifying rounds for the all-in final to be held at New Zealand’s International Rally of Whangarei in November are a further seven teams.

Former New Zealand champion Ben Hunt and Tony Rawstorn (Skoda) will be followed by Robbie Stokes and Sarah Brennan (Ford Fiesta) with 2009 APRC runner-up Emma Gilmour and new co-driver Katrina Renshaw (Citroen C3) following behind. Gill is next, followed by Todd Bawden and Dave Neill (Ford Fiesta), Jack Hawkeswood and Jason Farmer (Toyota Yaris), Mike Young and Amy Hudson (Toyota Yaris) and new-comer Zeal Jones and Waverly Jones (Skoda).

Ben Hunt, Rally Otago 2023
They’ll be chasing the pace set by the classic category, which includes former WRC rally winner Kris Meeke and Noel O’Sullivan in a Ford Escort RS1800, starting just in front of the group.

The rally starts 6:45pm Friday evening from Dunedin’s octagon, with the first special stage just after 8am Saturday.

The two-days of competition will be held south of the host city with Saturday focussed around the in-land rural township of Lawrence. The day concludes with the traditional 2.15km tarmac Super Stage around the port-side streets of Dunedin’s industrial area. The day totals 146km broken into eight special stages, including the 42.3km ‘Cityforest’ stage.

Sunday begins at 7:30am with a further eight stages covering 130km. Centred around the lakeside Waihola service park, stage lengths vary from the 9.1km Taieri Beach to the 28km Perry Road. The rally concludes with the famed ‘Kuri Bush’ stage of 15km before the ceremonial finish at southern Dunedin’s Brighton Domain.

The winning team will be awarded NZ$5,000 with NZ$3,000 for second and NZ$2,000 for third, funded by Indian businessman Vamcy Merla and his Maitri Estates operation.