Ross heads pack as WRC star Ostberg hits trouble

Kaikoura’s Regan Ross holds a slender 16.9 second lead after the opening leg of the 2018 International Otago Classic Rally, based at Dunedin in New Zealand’s South Island.

Regan Ross SS4Regan Ross holds a 16.9 second lead in his Ford Escort RS1800. Photo: Peter Whitten

Driving a Ford Escort RS1800, Ross and co-driver Samantha Gray lead the Volkswagen Golf GTi of Christchurch’s Deane Buist, but it wasn’t such a good day for international star Mads Ostberg.

Despite winning four of the day’s nine special stages, the Norwegian, together with Belgian co-driver Stephane Prevot, suffered a heartbreaking tailshaft failure just 2.5 kilometres in to the day’s first stage.

His Rossendale Rally Team then repaired his Ford Escort to rejoin the rally on stage four, but by then is chances of victory were well and truly dashed.

“It’s been quite enjoyable,” Ostberg said after the day’s stages. 

“It’s a shame we couldn’t go all the way through this morning, but I’ve enjoyed the stages we’ve done. 

“We still have loads of stages to go and we’ll keep enjoying it and trying to improve our speed all the time.”

Mads Ostberg SS8Despite problems, WRC star Mads Ostberg won four stages in his Escort. Photo: Peter Whitten

At the head of the field Ross had a successful first day, but knows his 16.9 second lead isn’t secure, with a further eight special stages to the north and west of Dunedin still to come on Sunday.

In second place, Buist has been somewhat of a surprise packet, with his recently built VW Golf setting times that have even surprised its driver.

He lies a clear minute ahead of third placed John Silcock in a Mazda RX7, who in turn is just 13 seconds ahead of Jeff Judd’s Escort.

Deane Buist SS8Deane Buist put in a brilliant drive in his new VW Golf GTi and lies second. Photo: Peter Whitten

Australian driver Stewart Reid is fifth in yet another Escort, with Wellington’s Karl Robinson sixth at the wheel of a Nissan Bluebird Turbo.

There was a long list of drivers who suffered mechanical problems during the day, headed by Welshman Meirion Evans who put his brand new Ford Escort RS1800 off the road on the very first stage, damaging the steering.

Local hope, and three-time winner, Derek Ayson, missed stages in his Escort after niggling engine problems, while Australian Darryn Snooks broke a throttle cable in his beautifully prepared Datsun Stanza.

In the corresponding Dunedin Isuzu Otago Rally - round one of the New Zealand Rally Championship - WRC star Hayden Paddon is completely dominating the field.

The Hyundai i20 AP4+ driver holds an impressive 4m44s lead over Subaru’s Ben Hunt, with Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour sitting in fourth place in a Suzuki Swift.

The second day of the International Otago Classic Rally will see drivers tackle another eight stages, concluding with the mammoth 37km Nenthorn test, which could well help to decide the 2018 winner.

For full Otago Rally results, head to www.chrissport.nz

International Otago Classic Rally - after Day 1

1. Regan Ross / Samantha Gray, Ford Escort RS1800, 1h22m36.2s

2. Deane Buist / Karl Celeste, Volkswagen Golf GTi, +16m9s

3. John Silcock / Grant Marra, Mazda RX7, +1m26.4s

4. Jeff Judd / Dominic Adams, Ford Escort RS2000, +1m39.7s

5. Stewart Reid / Jon Mortimer, Ford Escort RS1800, +2m50.8s

6. Karl Robinson / Tony Aimers, Nissan Bluebird Turbo, +3m13.7s

7. Grant Walker / Steph Richards, Ford Escort RS1800, +4m31.4s

8. Peter Scharmach / Dennis Zenz, Ford Escort RS2000, +6m14.9s

9. Andy Martin / Matt Hayward, Mazda RX3, +6m54.3s

10. Graham Ferguson / Ross Moody, Ford Escort RS1800, +7m38.4s