It’s only 1.7 kilometres of gravel road in a forest near Rangiora in North Canterbury, but the iconic Ashley Forest Rallysprint represents unfinished business for Kiwi rally star Hayden Paddon.
Fresh from securing a hard-fought third place at Rally Turkey on 16 September, Paddon is homeward bound ready to get behind the wheel of his New Zealand-built Hyundai i20 AP4+, especially upgraded to what Paddon calls AP4++ format for the Ashley Forest event.
“Ashley Forest is an event I grew up watching on TV, on repeat many times and seeing Rod Millen break the one-minute barrier for the first time was a memory that stuck,” says Paddon who first attempted the Ratec Motorsport Club-run rallysprint on his 14th birthday. His second attempt in 2011 saw him win the event outright with a time of 57.16 seconds.
“Last year we made a last-minute decision to do the event and we absolutely loved having full freedom to make the car go as fast as we can. Unfortunately, we retired with mechanical issues before the top 32 run-off so of course, we have some unfinished business.”
The Paddon Rallysport crew has been hard at work preparing Paddon’s New Zealand Rally Championship-winning car. “This is not a hillclimb special car, it’s a born rally car that we convert as much as we can. Mike, Jack and the team have been incredibly busy transforming the car into its AP4++ format. This year we have taken everything up a notch from last year – an improved aero package, more refined engine and new Motec engine management system.”
Paddon is looking forward to the level of anticipated competition among the unlimited 4WD class competitors. Among them are Scottish rally star Alistair McRae and last year’s winner Sloan Cox, as well as long-time entrant Trevor Crowe.
“It’s great to have both Alistair and Sloan there,” Paddon says. “They’re both very good drivers with very fast cars. It will make for a great spectacle for the fans and should be a great event. We are giving away about 100bhp and 200kg to both of them, so we certainly have our work cut out, but we hope our suspension package will help bridge some of that gap.”
Setting a record is the highest priority for Paddon this weekend. “And how low we can get that record, but to do that we know we will also try to have to win! It won’t be easy with some very stiff competition.”
Following the 22-23 September running of the Ashley Forest Rallysprint, the Hyundai i20 AP4+ car will go back to its usual specifications for the Hyundai NZ Raglan Rally of the Coast on Saturday 13 October. In between the two New Zealand events, Paddon also contests Wales Rally GB from 4-7 October.
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