Four top Kiwi drivers have been selected as the wildcard entrants for the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) field during July’s International Rally of Whangarei
The four drivers are: Hayden Paddon, 23, from Geraldine; Dean Sumner, 31, Rotorua; Ben Jagger, 20, Whangarei; and Sloan Cox, 19, Rotorua.
A new initiative in 2010, the APRC wildcard or guest entries give the local drivers the opportunity to earn points in the FIA regional rally championship and benefit from the additional media coverage around the world.
Willard Martin, chairman of the International Rally of Whangarei organising committee, says the APRC wildcard entries, which were nominated by a panel from MotorSport New Zealand, add an exciting new dimension to this year’s event.
“This year, the Asia Pacific series features some seriously talented drivers such as former World Rally Championship competitors Australian Chris Atkinson and Scotsman Alister McRae driving for the Proton R3 Rally team and current APRC series leaders Katsuhiko Taguchi, from Japan, and Indian driver Gaurav Gill who drive for the well-established MRF Tyres rally team,” says Martin.
“The APRC wildcard entrants have the chance to pit themselves against international drivers of this calibre; they’ll be seeded to start with the other APRC competitors and are registered to earn APRC points. This all helps build their profile and experience in rallying on an international level.”
The youngest of the APRC wildcard drivers, Sloan Cox, is looking to maximise his profile in the world of rallying. “It’s my first international seeding and as I’m looking for more international competition next year and in the future, this APRC wildcard is an awesome opportunity to use our status as the youngest competitors to get noticed.”
The 18-year-old tertiary student from Rotorua has his 20-year-old sister Tarryn alongside in the co-driver’s seat. “We still want to go well in the New Zealand Rally Championship [where Cox is currently seventh and the youngest NZRC-registered driver], but it’s going to be a big learning curve to compete among the international drivers during the International Rally of Whangarei.”
Fellow Rotorua competitor Dean Sumner was surprised by the MotorSport New Zealand nomination. “To be honest, the NZRC is our priority as we’re currently leading it after Rally New Zealand in May and we want to maximise our points’ total in Whangarei. We also wonder whether the change in road position [i.e. starting closer to the front of the field] will affect our pace, but we’re also excited by the opportunity, particularly the increased international media exposure afforded by the excellent APRC TV production. With really quick drivers like McRae, Atkinson, Taguchi and Gill, the APRC pace should be quite hot. We’re just really looking forward to the rally and really dealing to it as best we can.”
For Hayden Paddon, a rally win and nothing less is what the two-time New Zealand rally champion is seeking in Whangarei, having won the event in 2007 and 2009. “It’s one of my favourite events on what are some of the very best rallying roads in the world,” says the 23-year-old who’s in the middle of his biggest international season to date competing as a Pirelli Star Driver and a Production World Rally Championship contender in WRC events around the world.
Paddon says: “The International Rally of Whangarei works well in our calendar this year and provides John [Kennard, Paddon’s co-driver from Blenheim] with a great opportunity to practise some things we’ve been working on with our pace notes. We’ll be concentrating in being the fastest, but there’s tough competition this year! We won the Pacific Cup, which is part of the Asia Pacific series, but we didn’t get to earn APRC points. If we can do well in both the event and the APRC field that’s awesome, because the APRC is a prestigious FIA series and to win a round is a very significant achievement.”
Whangarei local Ben Jagger says being nominated for an APRC wildcard entry is a big deal for him and co-driver Ben Hawkins. “It’s our home crowd so we have a lot of supporters, friends and family who come out to watch us and they won’t have to wait as long to see us as we’ll be starting further up the field,” says the 20-year-old who anticipates he faces a big learning curve with the elevated running order.
“I think it will make a difference running closer to the front of the field. There is a fair bit of gravel on our roads up here, so that will be different. The main thing is we’re looking to learn from the experience. I’m keen to learn as much as I can while I’m still young. Every opportunity like this, and like competing in our four-wheel-drive Seed Force Subaru for the first time this year, it all helps us progress. We’re going really well in the Subaru; better than we expected really, so we’re looking to make a good impression in Whangarei.”
The International Rally of Whangarei takes place from 2 to 4 July with competitors participating in an autograph signing session and the official start ceremony in Whangarei’s Cameron Street Mall on the Friday. Saturday and Sunday’s action takes them through roads in the Whangarei and Kaipara districts, with a super special stage in the Pohe Island reserve, before they return to rally headquarters at the Quayside Town Basin for Sunday’s 3.30pm ceremonial finish.