Hayden Paddon refreshed and raring to go for Rally of Otago
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Hayden Paddon is taking a rebuilt Hyundai and a refreshed approach into the Rally of Otago this weekend.
It’s been five months since Paddon’s last competitive drive at WRC Rally Australia in November — one of the longest breaks in his international career — but says he’s feeling refreshed and ready rather than rusty behind the wheel.
‘‘I did a small test the other day and from the first run it was like putting on a old pair of gloves, Everything felt normal, no problems at all,’’ he said.
Subaru driver Ben Hunt will be chasing his second New Zealand title after winning the 2015 championship. PHOTOGRAPHY INMOTION / Greg Henderson
Paddon (Hyundai i20 AP4) is a clear favourite among the 132-strong entry for the Otago event which combines the NZ Rally Championship opener with the first round of a revamped FIA Asia-Pacific Championship plus the Otago Classic Rally action.
Paddon is weighing-up a trip to China for the APRC final in October but firstly has eyes on the Pacific Cup segment of the series which comprises the Otago and Whangarei events and two Australian rallies.
‘‘The Pacific Cup is something to aim for. It’s an FIA Championship so we’ll try to do something in Australia later this year,’’ says Paddon.
‘‘The car has had a ground-up rebuild but we haven’t gone overboard on changes. The main change is some upgraded electronics.’’
At the moment Paddon intends entering the Otago and Whangarei (May 3-5) events and his home South Canterbury Rally in late-June. He hasn’t registered for the NZ Rally Championship and won’t take points away from title contenders.
‘‘We’re not doing the full championship and we don’t want to disrupt the drivers who are making the effort to do the championship,’’ he said.
The capacity field for the Otago event will contest the stages in a new running order that sees the new 4WD Classic section running first through the stages ahead of the reverse-seeded 2WD Classic rally. The main field of APRC and NZRC competitors then follow.
‘‘I think it’s good for the spectators and I applaud the organisers to trying something different,’’ said Paddon.
‘‘If it stays dry the roads are going to be well-swept for us but the lines will be different behind the two-wheel-drive cars. It means there could be a sharp transition between grip and no-grip.’’
Rangiora's Matt Summerfield is making another NZRC title bid this season in a Mitsubishi Mirage AP4. PHOTOGRAPHY INMOTION / Greg Henderson
Paddon’s decision not to contest the NZRC has left the domestic rally title wide open. The 2017 champion Andrew Hawkeswood (Auckland) hasn’t committed to the full season and is another considering an Asia-Pacific bid while 2016 champion David Holder (Mt Maunganui) will contest the first two rounds in Greg Murphy’s Holden Barina AP4 before focusing on the Asia-Pacific final in China.
Full-season contenders are headed by 2015 champion Ben Hunt (Subaru) as a narrow title favourite with a strong line-up of South Island challengers including Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour (Suzuki), Christchurch driver Josh Marston (Holden Barina) and Rangiora’s Matt Summerfield (Mitsubishi Mirage AP4).
Two R5 Skoda Fabia will line-up at Otago driven by Aucklanders Raana Horan and Kingsley Jones and other leading North Island competitors include Auckland’s Dylan Turner (Audi S1 AP4) and Tauranga’s Phil Campbell (Ford Fiesta AP4).
Australian Brendan Reeves has delivered two winning drives on New Zealand events in recent years but the Otago roads will be new territory for him. He’ll drive the new Ford Fiesta AP4 of former New Zealand champion Brian Stokes and while he’ll miss the Whangarei event dut to a Targa Tasmania drive he hopes to return to other New Zealand rallies later this year.
The DriveSouth Rally of Otago makes its traditional start with the Whare Flat forest stage on the outskirts of Dunedin on Saturday morning. The first day has eight stages totalling 132km based at a Lake Waihola service park with stages on the Taieri Coast, Berwick Forest and Waipori Gorge.
On Sunday there are seven stages — two of them repeated — and 140km of competitive driving based around an Oamaru service park before the traditional finish at the historic Dunedin Railway Station at 3.30pm.