Hayden Paddon is gunning for a rally-winning performance at this weekend's FIA International Rally of Whangarei, having made further pace-improving developments to the Stadium Cars Evo9 rally car.
Paddon and co-driver John Kennard, from Geraldine and Blenheim respectively, head to Whangarei leading the driver and co-driver championship points-tables following their comfortable win at the opening New Zealand Rally Championship event in Otago in April.
Running 17 to 19 May, the Whangarei event is round two of the New Zealand Rally Championship.
Paddon joins the bulk of the NZRC Super Rally category drivers to run in a separate field to those competitors running in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship and FIA-eligible vehicles. The new situation – bought about by changes to NZRC regulations which saw the former premier Group N production car category widened to the new Super Rally class incorporating Group N and R4-spec cars like Paddon's –provides Paddon with two goals.
"We're going all out to win the NZRC class and we're also aiming to match our pace against Finnish driver Esapekka Lappi who's competing in New Zealand for the first time in a similar Skoda Fabia Super 2000-spec car to what we use in World Rally Championship events.
"While the Skoda may have superior handling, I feel we've made very good developments with the Stadium Cars Evo9 in terms of suspension, diff and brakes. They're all another step on from what we ran in Otago. Also, for us, Whangarei is a familiar rally. We've won it outright three times. The roads, the stages are very familiar and among our favourites from rallying all over the world."
Paddon says he and the whole team are feeling much better prepared than before the Otago rally when they'd just finished more than 1,000 hours of work rebuilding the Evo9 and developing it from Group N to R4-spec.
"However one of the main unknowns for Rally Whangarei is our road position. While I'm seeded first in the NZRC field, the top five NZRC competitors get to select their starting order and we will all be running after the 12 or 13 APRC and FIA-eligible competitors. So depending on whether the roads are likely to be wet or dry, we'll be making that start order decision on Friday afternoon during the official start ceremony in downtown Whangarei.
"In terms of NZRC competition, we never underestimate drivers like Chris West and Richard Mason. It will be interesting to see Emma Gilmour out for the first time in her new Suzuki Maxi and Andrew Hawkeswood is another to watch."
During the event, Paddon faces 16 special stages covering a competitive distance of 288.16 kilometres. Saturday's route heads over roads around Parahi south-west of Whangarei and the Waipu Caves, while Sunday's challenges are to the south of Whangarei through Waipu Gorge and Paparoa.
In recent weeks, Paddon's rally management company, Hayden Paddon RallySport Global Ltd, has confirmed new partnerships with Telecom New Zealand and Heartland Chips.
"We welcome Telecom and Heartland Chips to the Paddon RallySport family and thank them for their support."
Paddon and his New Zealand rally campaign is supported by Telecom New Zealand, PlaceMakers, Z Energy, Stadium Cars, Saddle Hill Quarries, New Balance, Heartland Potato Chips, Scott Sports, Total Automotive Timaru, Coxys Panel Repairs, Resene, All About Signs, Reaction Racing, In-Tune Automotive, Racetech, Chicane, Endless Brakes, Nichibo, Choice at Team Ralliart, Andar The Front Store, MCA Suspension, Tyre General, Dunlop, Pope Print, Bluebridge Ferry, ION, and 1Group.