WRC rally winner Hayden Paddon starts his bid for a seventh Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship on the lightning fast roads of Otago this weekend.
Paddon, the two-time defending national champion, headlines a strong field for the opening round of the 2023 championship but will need to make hay while he’s in New Zealand as he juggles a European campaign this season as well.
Paddon is set to miss at least one of the six rounds and could miss more depending on dates of the yet-to-be-confirmed replacement events for Hawke’s Bay and Coromandel so will need to bank maximum points whenever he is competing this season.
Paddon will run the Hyundai New Zealand i20N Rally 2 car this season.
He will find a chasing pack, nipping at his heels and looking to keep him honest this weekend with the likes of two-time national champion Ben Hunt (Skoda New Zealand Rally 2), Robbie Stokes (Team Hutchison Ford Fiesta AP4), Raana Horan (Generator Rental Services Skoda Rally 2), Josh Marston (RDL Holden Barina AP4) and Ari Pettigrew (Manukau Auto Centre Holden Barina AP4).
Local star Emma Gilmour, who is a factory driver for McLaren in the Extreme E Series, will debut her new Vantage Citroen C3 car in the championship.
Dylan Turner, a podium getter at Otago previously, will be under pressure to make sure he brings the LJ Hooker/Giltrap Group Audi S1 AP4 home without incident with Supercars star Shane van Gisbergen lined up to pilot it at round two in Whangarei.
Others in the Open 4WD class are Jack Hawkeswood (Force Motorsport GR Yaris), Todd Bawden (Online Contractors Ford Fiesta Rally 2), Mike Young (Cusco Toyota C-HR), Hadyn Mackenzie (Albany Toyota Yaris AP4), Matt Jensen (Ryobi Mazda 2 AP4), Clint Cunningham (Skoda Fabia R5), Andy Martin (Carbon Works Volkswagen Polo R5). Eugene Creugnet (Mitsubishi Mirage AP4) and Australian/Irishman Richie Dalton (Skoda Fabia R5).
The NZRC 2WD battle sees youngsters Jackson Clendon (Ford Fiesta), Dylan Thomson (Ford Fiesta), Jordan Grant (Suzuki Swift), Bryn Jones (Ford Fiesta) and Tim Mackersy (Ford Fiesta) battle it out on roads where outright top-end speed will be a massive advantage.
The huge swells that disrupted the Cook Strait Ferry this week has robbed us of the Open 2WD battle between Dan Haines (Ford Escort) and Dave Strong (Honda Jazz) with the latter’s car stuck in the North Island.
Instead defending class champion Haines will need to hold off Australia-based Irishman Glenn Alcorn (Ford Escort), JP van der Mays (Ford Fiesta) and Peter Farrell (Mazda RX7).
The Historic 2WD battle features defending champion John Silcock (RX7) facing the likes of Aussie Stewart Reid (Ford Escort) and Tim McIver (Ford Escort).
The battle at the front of the Rally Challenge 4WD class looks to be a head-to-head fight between reigning champion Jeff Ward (Subaru Impreza) and Jonty Brennsell (Mitsubishi EVO 9) – the latter stepping up from 2WD this year.
Veteran driver Brian Green will also compete in the class this season in his Mitsubishi EVO 9) while Dave Ollis (Subaru Impreza) will be another to feature.
Sam Byrne (Mitsubishi Lancer MR) is the only entrant this round in the Rally Challenge 2WD class.
The event gets underway with a ceremonial opening at the Octagon in downtown Dunedin on Friday night before two days of high speed action on gravel roads north and south of the city over the weekend.
Header Image: Hayden Paddon Facebook | Words: Supplied