Ken Block joins Hayden Paddon for the Rally of Whangarei this weekend
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Three weeks after the season opener at Otago there could be quite a different look to the fight for podium places when Kiwi rally action shifts to the North Island this weekend.
There’s very little chance the pace of Hayden Paddon will be threatened at the ENEOS Rally of Whangarei this weekend.
A year ago the Hyundai driver won the event by more than seven minutes and barring any significant delay or rally-ending issue there will be no surprise if Paddon again proves similarly dominant this weekend.
What could look different is the battle taking place in Paddon’s tyre tracks. There have been several notable changes in the entry list since last month’s Otago event opened the New Zealand Rally Championship season and the Pacific region element of the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship.
Early on at Otago it was Australian Brendan Reeves — driving Brian Stokes’ new Ford Fiesta AP4 — who built a handy margin over the Kiwi drivers. But Reeves isn’t in action on Northland gravel this weekend, instead he’s driving a Hyundai i30N on tarmac at Targa Tasmania.
In his place the international component of the 52-car field is boosted by the Japanese Cusco Racing team with its Toyota AP4 cars for Kiwi Michael Young and Japan’s Suguro Kawana.
But the driver who will share top-billing with Paddon at Whangarei is US star Ken Block.
Block has included the New Zealand event on a world tour with a car he calls Cossie V2. It’s a modernised Group A Ford Escort RS Cosworth, a car dating back to the mid-90s but featuring suspension, transmission, aero and engine upgrades. Block won the Whangarei event outright driving a contemporary Ford Fiesta in 2013.
In the NZ Rally Championship contest this weekend’s event is a chance for Auckland’s Ben Hunt (Subaru WRX STI) to extend the series lead he established at Otago (Paddon hasn’t registered for the national series).
The 2015 national champ claimed 42 points from a possible maximum score of 44 at Otago and leads Aucklander Dylan Turner (Audi S1 AP4) with 35 points and Tauranga’s Phil Campbell (Ford Fiesta AP4) with 24.
The two-day format at Whangarei with bonus points available each leg is a chance for drivers who came away from Otago empty-handed to get their challenges started. Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour (Suzuki Swift Maxi) and Aucklander Raana Horan (Skoda Fabia R5) are the leading contenders in that category.
The ENEOS Rally of Whangarei rally has attracted 52 entries, a significant contrast to the 127 crews that started the Otago event.
The Friday evening start ceremony at the Te Matau a Pohe bridge in Whangarei is followed by two after-dark blasts through a revised Pohe Island Super Special Stage to get the rally started.
On both Saturday and Sunday the first car clocks out of the Northland Events Centre service park at 7am. The Saturday route loops twice through four stages to the north of Hikurangi with 139km of competition. Eight more Sunday stages are to the south of Whangarei in the Maungakaramea and Waipu Caves region totalling 125km before a 3pm ceremonial finish back at Whangarei’s Quayside Town Basin.
Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship (after round 1 of 6):
1 Ben Hunt (Auckland) Subaru WRX STI, 42pts
2 Dylan Turner (Auckland) Audi S1 AP4, 35pts
3 Phil Campbell (Tauranga) Ford Fiesta AP4, 24pts
4 Matt Summerfield (Rangiora) Mitsubishi Mirage AP4, 23pts
5= Josh Marston (Christchurch) Holden Barina AP4, 21pts
5= Andrew Hawkeswood (Auckland) Mazda2 AP4, 21pts