The country’s leading rally drivers head to Northland this week for the International Rally of Whangarei.
Two years after they were last used, the gravel roads north and south-west of the city will test New Zealand’s best drivers.
The event doubles as the second round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship and former WRC star Hayden Paddon will start with a nice buffer in the championship points and as the favourite to win the rally.
“I’m really eager to return to one of the most popular rallies in the country,” Paddon said. “It has certainly felt like a long time since we were there in 2019.”
“However, with most of the stages the same as two years ago, it gives us a really clear target to focus on to try and better our own performances.”
“Weather could have a part to play in that and, if the forecast rain arrives, could mean we only have once chance to try and lower our records on the first pass, before the roads become too muddy on the second pass.”
Paddon dominated the field to take a comprehensive outright win at Winmax Brakes Otago Rally last month but feels the chasing pack is catching up to him.
Several of his rival competitors were matching or even bettering his stage times from 2019 and so Paddon knows he needs to continue to make gains to maintain his advantage.
“There are also a lot of competitive teams chomping at the bit who are making some great gains and certainly keeping the pressure on us,” Paddon said.
“Ben [Hunt] is always fast in Whangarei, but Robbie Stokes is no longer a dark horse, and we can expect him along with Emma [Gilmour], Raana [Horan] and Josh [Marston] to be fighting right up the front. It’s simply too close amongst the top 10 to call it.”
The rally begins with an official welcome on Thursday night before a ceremonial opening on the famous Te Matau a Pohe Bridge and two passes through the Pohe Island Super Special stage in downtown Whangarei.
Saturday’s action sees competitors head north out of the city while Sunday’s stages take competitors south and west of the city.
Main Image: Geoff Ridder