Classic Rally of Otago

Hagstrom steals the show

The fans who turned out in their hundreds to witness a display of Finnish rally driving virtuosity were thrilled by the skills of Juha Kankkunen and Pasi Hagstrom in the classic division of the Otago Rally.

But it was the understudy, Hagstrom, who stole the show from the master and team mate, Kankkunen, as both drivers gave the locals a lesson in how to hustle an early 1980s Ford Escort BDA over Otago's rally roads.

Hagstrom, whose day job is test driving for the Subaru world championship team, won at a canter, despite this being his first-time rallying in a right-hand-drive car, and his first time without pacenotes.

By the time the rally's first leg had concluded he had won six of the seven stages and was already over a minute and a half ahead of Kankkunen. He in turn held an advantage of almost three minutes over top local Derek Ayson of Clinton. By the end of the event Hagstrom's lead stood at a massive four minutes over Kankkunen, and six and half minutes over Ayson.

"Being third behind a Subaru rally team test driver and a four-times World Champion is something I have to be pretty happy about," said Ayson. "It has been a great event from my point of view."

Hagstrom was also satisfied with his weekend, but it was clear that his champion team mate did not enjoy being beaten.

"The first day was fun, but today we suffered some mechanical problems which was frustrating," Kankkunen said after nursing his car around the final stage on three cylinders.

The cause of the Finnish duo was aided by the early demise of last year's winner and former New Zealand champion, Brian Stokes, with mechanical problems.

Brent Buist, the other fancied New Zealand resident, was delayed on leg one when his Escort sustained two broken gearsticks. He fought back magnificently on Sunday's second leg, setting fastest time on two stages as he powered from 14th to sixth overall.

His brother, Deane, also had a fine rally in a less powerful 1600cc BDA Escort, but was forced to retire from a top-four result with an engine problem late in the event.

Expatriate Kiwi, Rod Millen, struggled with the handling of his Mazda early in the rally, but gradually fine-tuned the car to his liking, and finished a fine fourth, breaking Ford's dominance of the top places, just as he did in New Zealand rallying back in the 1970s.

"It was a blast, and I'm already thinking about how to come back and do better in the future," he said.

Ross Dunkerton was the top Australian, despite a troubled weekend in his locally prepared Nissan Bluebird. On leg one the car's turbo fell off and the engine also suffered from fuel sensor problems, while on leg two the turbo wastegate came out.

Final Results - Classic Rally
1. Pasi Hagstrom/Ian McKee (Finland) Ford Escort RS, 2h46m44.2s
2. Juha Kankkunen/Seppo Harjane (Finland) Ford Escort RS, 2h51m07.4
3. Derek Ayson/Andrew Graves (Clinton) Ford Escort Mk2, 2h53m17.6s
4. Rod Millen/Emil Kuttle (USA) Mazda RX-7, 2h54m22.6s
5. Robert McCallum/Sean Sands (Christchurch) Ford Escort RS, 2h56m25.1s
6. Brent Buist/Glenn Buist (Christchurch) Ford Escort RS, 2h56m54.2s
7. Ross Dunkerton/Alan Stean (Australia) Nissan Bluebird turbo, 2h58m45.4s
8. Steve Parker/Grant McKenzie (Timaru) Nissan Sunny, 2h59m04.1s
9. Barry Mills/Mark Allington (Balclutha) Hillman Avenger, 2h59m18.5
10. Mark Leonard/Robin Kingan (Timaru) Mazda RX7, 2h59m52.0s

Stage times here

(By David Thomson, rallysport.news.com.au)