Since the inception of the Rally New Zealand Rising Stars driver development programme, all three award recipients will line up for the same event, Rally New Zealand
International award winner Hayden Paddon (23, Geraldine), Development winner Ben Jagger (20, Whangarei) and Scholarship recipient Stephen Barker (21, Hamilton) will all contest New Zealand’s round of the World Rally Championship based in Auckland.
While all three will contest for points in the Vantage New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC), Paddon and co-driver John Kennard will also be competing against the world’s best Group N (production class) four-wheel-drive competitors in the Production World Rally Championship (PWRC).
Four of the six rounds PWRC rounds Paddon competes in this year see him use his Pirelli Star Driver scholarship Mitsubishi, but for the other two rounds (Rally New Zealand and Rally Japan) he campaigns his Team Green Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX thanks to the assistance of the Rally New Zealand Rising Stars International award.
Jagger, who will be contesting his second Rally New Zealand, is looking to continue the superb speed he showed at the opening round of the NZRC, Rally Otago, where he finished a fine fifth amongst his fellow Group N competitors in his new Seedforce Subaru.
For Rally New Zealand, Jagger and co-driver Ben Hawkins will write their own pace notes from scratch, rather than using the organiser supplied safety notes like they have in the past. Jagger explains the reasons behind the move.
“We are writing our own notes because if we really want to make some steps forward, it is the best and cheapest way. Also if we end up doing some international events, we don’t want to be thrown in the deep end by having to write them with no previous experience. Hopefully it won’t affect our pace too much and we can still put some in some competitive stage times,” says Jagger
Unlike Jagger and Paddon, Risings Stars Scholarship winner Stephen Barker and co-driver Richard Ellis have never contested a round of the World Championship before, so the event will be a new experience for both.
Also new to Barker and the majority of Group N competitors in the NZRC is the amount of points available to them at Rally New Zealand. Whilst most rounds of the championship offer two points scoring days, Rally New Zealand will offer a third opportunity to score points. In the past the third and final day of Rally New Zealand has not offered any points. The importance of looking after his Group N two-wheel-drive Ford Fiesta across all three days to gain valuable points is not lost to Barker.
“I am really looking forward to contesting all three days of Rally New Zealand,” says Barker. “But we will be setting some fairly conservative stage times to make sure we can score points on each of the three days and consolidate our lead in the NZRC 2WD championship.”
All three drivers compete on a range of roads as far north as Whangarei on the opening day, before heading south for days two and three in the Franklin, North Waikato and Raglan areas. Although predominantly a gravel rally, the route incorporates some tarmac including the Auckland Domain and New Zealand’s newest race-track, Hampton Downs.
“It will be great to see all three of our Rising Stars Award winners competing in Rally New Zealand,” says Rally New Zealand chairman Chris Carr. “As an added bonus each of the three drivers has a strong chance of challenging for a strong result within their classes.”