An already strong entry list for this year's two-day Rally New Zealand has been bolstered with confirmation that two-time New Zealand rally champion Hayden Paddon has entered the event with his new Subaru STI rally car
The Geraldine-based driver and his Blenheim-based co-driver John Kennard are in the midst of a comprehensive international campaign to win the FIA Production World Rally Championship title, but the pairing also has the opportunity to contest some events at home in New Zealand courtesy of a partnership with Palmerston North businessman Robbie Leicester.
The partnership has already proven successful with Paddon winning the Drivesouth Rally of Otago on his first outing with the car.
Paddon's entry in Rally New Zealand adds further impetus for other teams to test themselves against the just-turned-24-year-old, who was ranked by Autosport magazine's rally editor, David Evans, as one of the top 10 drivers in the world last year.
"It's absolutely fantastic news that Hayden and his team will line up for Rally New Zealand when it commences next Friday night with the ceremonial start at Manukau City Centre," says Rally New Zealand chairman Peter Johnston.
"Hayden is showing the world that he's got the talent and skill to win a world rally title. To have him racing at home for line honours in Rally New Zealand is exciting for fans and the event, and like the other competitors, Hayden will be racing to see if he can have his name inscribed on the Rally New Zealand trophy alongside WRC winners of previous years."
With Rally New Zealand forming the second round of the New Zealand Rally Championship, the main sporting focus is on the battle for points in New Zealand's premier rallying contest. However, for the first time in his five years of national rally competition, Paddon's focus is not on winning the championship, but rather on getting more competitive kilometres under the tyres of his new Subaru.
"Our New Zealand Subaru is built to the same Group N (production car) specification as the car we are running in the Production World Rally Championship, which is built by a Belgium-based team, Symtech," says Paddon.
"The goal remains to get more miles in the Subarus after all our years driving Mitsubishis. There are many synergies between the two cars and our learning and development with the New Zealand car certainly aids the Europe-based car.
"Of course, we'll be doing our best to win - that's what we do! And it would be a great honour indeed to win Rally New Zealand outright regardless of whether this is a WRC year or not."
Rally NZ takes in two days of rally action through the Franklin, North Waikato and Raglan districts for competitors across three fields: NZRC, Rally NZ Historic Rally and Possum Bourne Memorial Rally.