Getting up to speed on Otago's rally

Not exactly a speed junkie, reporter Tim Miller strapped himself into  a rally car and went for a joyride ahead of the Rally of Otago this weekend.

Waiting for the signal to give us the all-clear to tear off along the tight and narrow gravel forestry road, I immediately regret eating lunch.

I'm strapped in tightly to the co-driver's seat of a Ford Escort RS1800.

Next to me is Daniel Callinan, a seasoned Australian rally driver .

I stare for a moment at the fire extinguisher located next to my feet.

Strapped tightly into the passenger seat of Australian rally driver Daniel Callinan's Ford Escort...
Strapped tightly into the passenger seat of Australian rally driver Daniel Callinan's Ford Escort RS1800, an apprehensive Otago Daily Times reporter Tim Miller gives the thumbs-up before taking a test spin in the pouring rain yesterday. Photos: Peter McIntosh
''I'll be in control of that if anything happens,'' Callinan says.

I don't say anything, but the fact there is a need for a fire extinguisher makes me more nervous. In front of us in the queue is professional rally driver Mads Ostberg.

''You want to be in there with him. He'll really give a good thrashing,'' Daniel says.

Again I sit silently.

Callinan has already apologised for being one of the slower guys, but there's no need. I'm sure he's going to go fast enough.

He reassures me the wet conditions mean the tyres grip better - I really don't believe him, but this is my first time in a rally car, so I don't dispute it.

The Ford Escort RS1800.
The Ford Escort RS1800.
But as the marshall starts his countdown from 10, those nerves, which only a couple of minutes earlier had me regretting my lunch, disappear.

I'm ready to go.

I've mentally prepared for the feeling of being pushed back into my seat as we take off but it still takes me by surprise.

What I wasn't anticipating was my head throwing itself forward when the brakes are applied as my body stays in place strapped in five places.

As I bounce around and get pulled from one side to the other, Callinan sits beside me driving like he's done this 1000 times before, because he has.

We glide around corners, accelerate along the straights and inch around the tight bends.

Then just like that it was all over, 4km in what felt like 30 seconds.

As we cross the finish line, Callinan reminds me that I didn't say a word during the whole circuit.

''Just taking it all in,'' I say.

My lunch stayed put.

Otago Rally sponsorship and promotions manager Roger Oakley said there are 130 crews competing, including 21 international teams from eight different countries.

Over the weekend, the drivers will traverse nearly 300km on roads from Taieri Mouth and Whare Flat to Oamaru and Windsor.

Tomorrow , the cars will be in the Octagon from 5pm for the rally's ceremonial start.

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