Top local rally driver Hayden Paddon, from Geraldine, will be attempting to win the Pirelli Star Driver title for the Asia Pacific region, a prize worth nearly one million New Zealand dollars, during next weekend’s Repco Rally Australia.
The inaugural Pirelli Star Driver title was won by fellow Kiwi rally driver Mark Tapper last year and Tapper is currently part-way through his Pirelli-backed season competing in six of the twelve World Rally Championship rounds.
The Asia Pacific Pirelli Star Driver final is being run during the first nine stages of the 31-stage Repco Rally Australia event, which takes place 2-6 September. Paddon and Nelson’s Kieran Hall qualified for entry after topping the points’ table during the New Zealand qualifying event, the NAC Insurance International Rally of Whangarei, in June. While Paddon, the current New Zealand rally champion, has been able to structure his season towards competing in the Pirelli Star Driver final, unfortunately Hall has not been able to take advantage of the opportunity. Being one of the top qualifiers in Whangarei, Paddon and Hall received three thousand Euros each towards the expense of competing in Australia, but the prize money does not cover the entire cost.
"The Pirelli Star Driver Scholarship is massive, an opportunity that does not come along very often,” said Paddon before departing for Australia. “It has always been my dream and goal to become a World Rally Champion and an opportunity like this is the best jumpstart towards my goal. There is no prize for second in this sport, so it will be 110 per cent attack from the moment we set foot on Australian soil."
Paddon expects stiff competition from three local drivers, Eli Evans, Glen Raymond and Nathan Quinn and China’s Chaodong Liu.
“It’s a shame that another Australian Brendan Reeves, who put up an excellent performance during Rally Whangarei and who would have been a strong competitor, has had to withdraw from the competition after injuries sustained in a recent Australian rally,” said Paddon. “The opposition is a bit of an unknown. We have competed against a couple of the Aussies before, but to be perfectly honest all I am worried about is our own performance. When we are out there on the competitive stages, it’s just the road, the clock, John and me, so they are the main elements that I am focused on!"
The Pirelli Star Driver scoring structure sees points are awarded for the first five competitors on each of the nine stages. The final result is based on accumulated points.
“In addition to results on the road relative to the other Pirelli competitors, our performance off the track will also be evaluated, including personal presentation, media skills and how we drivers conduct ourselves.
“Rallying is so much more than just what you do behind the wheel and to be a champion in any discipline you have to be the complete package. With the event only being held over the first nine stages, it will be very much a sprint event. However seven of those nine stages have no service opportunities, so preserving the car in the rougher sections may also come into it.”
With the event being held on new roads, Paddon is looking forward to the fact there is no local advantage. “John and I have traditionally written really good pace notes on new pieces of road. This will be crucial, especially when we will be attacking right from the outset.”
Although being top of the Pirelli Star Driver points’ table after the nine stages is his first priority, Paddon intends to complete the remaining 22 rally stages and thus register a finish in the Production World Rally Championship class where his archrival in the New Zealand Rally Championship, Richard Mason will also be competing after being nominated by Nasser Al-Attiyah to take his P-WRC entry in the event.
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Rally NZ is the Official NZ Round of the FIA World Rally