Hayden Paddon returns home for 'best roads' in Rally New Zealand
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After a trying season in the World Rally Championship the mention of "New Zealand roads’’ brings an instant smile to Hayden Paddon’s face.
The Kiwi rally star returns home this weekend from his WRC campaign and will contest the Tauranga-based Rally New Zealand in his locally built Hyundai i20 AP4 car.
The two-day rally includes a long Saturday journey to the opposite coast of the North Island to tackle the world-renowned Raglan and Te Akau South stages.
Paddon will be teamed with long-time co-driver John Kennard for the NZ Rally Championship finale and the duo will race on the Raglan Coast roads for the first time since 2012.
"I’m looking forward to coming home and driving on the best roads in the world,’’ said Paddon shortly after his third placed finish at WRC Rally Australia in Coffs Harbour on Sunday.
"I love rallying at home with our own team and family friends. We’ve made a lot of changes to the car as well and I’m interested to see how it will go.’’
Along with his "Paddon’s Pack’’ army of supporters, Paddon is also importing some international support this weekend.
Paddon’s new British WRC co-driver Seb Marshall and his Hyundai Motorsport engineer Rui Soares (Portugal) will be checking out the Kiwi rally action.
"Seb and my engineer Rui are coming out for the week and we’ll show then the country.
"Seb was going to sit in the car if it was going to be WRC [in 2018] but that’s not the case so John will be in the car and Seb will be our tour guide, if you like.’’
It will be the second trip to New Zealand for Soares, who first worked as Paddon’s engineer during his 2011 Production WRC title winning season.
Marshall, who took over WRC co-driver role from Kennard mid-year is making his first visit to New Zealand.
"It’s been a long year and we have flown half-way around the world for this rally [Australia]. So, another two hours or so to get to New Zealand for a week to rest and relax a bit is a no-brainer,’’ said Marshall.
"And I’ve been hearing about New Zealand all year long so it’s great to get a chance to look around.’’
Paddon and Kennard are top seeds for the New Zealand Rally Championship final, heading a 54-car field into an event that uses the classic Raglan Coast and Te Akau South stages on Saturday before a long touring stage and a service park based at ASB Baypark Stadium in Mount Maunganui.
On Sunday the rally route is based out of the Baypark venue with stages near Lake Rotoma, Pyes Pa and a spectator stage at the TECT All Terrain Park motorsport facility.
The championship is poised as a three-way fight with Auckland’s Andrew Hawkeswood (Mazda2 AP4) the series leader on 109 points chased by 2015 champion Ben Hunt (Subaru) and Rangiora’s Matt Summerfield (Subaru) with 99 and 98 points respectively.