The BDA Ford Escort Aaron Slight will drive in the Rally of Otago. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES
Slight calls on Murphy for advice
Two Wairarapa drivers at the opposite ends of their motorsport careers will make their national rally debuts this weekend.
Promising teenager Jackson Clendon and former World Superbike star Aaron Slight will line up in the Otago Rally, in vastly different cars, but with the same ambition, to win.
Clendon was the talk of the North Island rallying fraternity in the latter part of 2020, winning the two-wheel drive class in his Ford Fiesta, in his debut event, the Rally of Bay of Plenty. He followed that with second in his class in Rally Waitomo in December.
Making Clendon’s efforts even more impressive is that he has only been driving competitively for about two years, but he has the rallying pedigree.
His parents Pete and Kath competed at national championship level, and his second cousin was the late great Possum Bourne, a world championship driver who was killed while driving on the Road to the Sky circuit near Wanaka in 2003.
The 18-year-old is described by many rally enthusiasts as a really exciting talent, and despite his lack of experience will start one of the favourites in Category Two for Class N cars.
In a very strong field, Clendon’s toughest competition is expected to come from three-time class champion Dylan Thomson, who is returning to the class after two years absence, Harry Judd, Jordan Grant, and Bryn Jones.
Clendon will have Andrew Brooks from Dannevirke in the navigator’s seat for the national championship, and he is excited to test himself against the national championship drivers.
“It’s been a dream of mine for ages to compete in the NZ Championship and now that I get to do it, I just can’t wait,” he said.
“My first priority is to just finish the rally, get the experience, but I also do want to show that I am on the pace against Dylan, so if I’m there or thereabouts, I will be pretty happy.”
Longer term though, Clendon is targeting championship glory.
“For the whole series I am looking at winning the category two championship, and to finish every single round and get the experience.
Clendon will also contest the Junior Driver and Rookie Driver categories but does not expect to be competitive in his two-wheel-drive car against the faster four-wheel-drive cars.
While rallying is in Clendon’s blood, for Slight it will be a step into the unknown.
Slight  is well known to Kiwi motorsport fans, having raced in the World Superbike Championship for 12 years, finishing second in 1996 and 1998. He then competed in the British Touring Car Championship, and still drives in endurance events, but the Otago Rally will be his first time on gravel.
Slight was offered the drive in the BDA Ford Escort in the Classic component of the rally after Finn Mikko Hirvonen was unable to take the drive because of covid-19 travel restrictions.
He had his first drive in the left-hand drive Escort last weekend on the gravel driveway into Rossendale Wines near Christchurch, and apart from driving a special stage at Mystery Creek, Hamilton, for entertainment, he has never raced or been timed in a rally car.
Slight has called on the expertise of four-time Bathurst 1000 winner Greg Murphy for some tips.
“He said just take whatever you do on the tarmac and just throw it out the window, it’s a whole different ball game,” Slight said.
“When you get into a corner deep and brake, the thing will just go straight ahead and off the edge of the road, so you’ve got to set it up quite a long way before the corner, especially being a rear-wheel drive car. It’s all about spinning the rear wheels and getting it to steer from the rear, and it doesn’t turn unless you’re on the throttle, it’s awesome.”
Slight’s ambition is to finish the rally and improve with every stage of the two-day event.
“A lot of people start the rally and they’re off by the second stage, and you don’t get to have any fun. Classic sounds like it’s just a bunch of novices, but the Classics saved rallying down there, and there’s 115 entries and about 70 of them are classic cars.”
Slight will have the experienced Ian McKee as his co-driver.