This weekend’s Repco Rally New Zealand World Rally Championship event also doubles as the penultimate round of the Vantage Aluminium Joinery New Zealand Rally Championship.
While eyes are on the multi-million dollar factory teams, it will be a bi-focused kiwi field that have prized points on offer while comparing their form on the world stage.  Headed by current Goldstar championship leader Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard, the team are one of three locals running in the Production World Rally Championship field.
“We only get one chance a year to make an impression against the world’s best drivers at home.  At the pinnacle of any sport you have to grab the opportunities you’re given and this year I fully intend to do just that,” says Paddon, in his build-up to the FIA sanctioned rally.
With a lead of 29 points, Paddon says the weekend is a chance to forge ahead in his quest to compete internationally: “We have a good championship lead, and to tie it up here would be nice, but we really have to put that aside, as our main priority is to prove we can compete with the world’s best.  That’s where I want to be in the sport in the near future and a top finish here in P-WRC could create more opportunities down the line.  I think a good result in one will give us a good result in the other, so our focus is just on driving 100%.”
Second in the points chase, Chris West and co-driver Garry Cowan have their Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX mechanically brand-new in preparation for the three day battle:  “Preparations at Ralliart are almost complete with the transmission being the final major part to be fitted before tuning and car set-up,” said the 2004 Goldstar champion.
Testing their car during an official P-WRC test session, West says it will be his first chance to get a feel of the Pirelli tyre the entire field must use for the rally.
“This will be the first time back behind the wheel of our Andrew Simms Mitsubishi since Hawke’s Bay and also the first time with Pirelli rubber since 2006. Testing is going to be interesting, with the comments from P-WRC drivers on their prior experiences of the tyres on top of everyone’s mind. Special stage conditions for the event are going to be important, keeping in mind the whole country has been experiencing heavy rain storms over the past six weeks, road conditions will be unlike the past.”
Having won entry to the P-WRC field through a Repco Rally New Zealand scholarship, West and Paddon are joined by Stewart Taylor and co-driver Warwick Searle – having secured a privateer entry to the category.
As the defending junior rally champion, Hayden Paddon has a chance at wrapping up the title this weekend.  With an almost insurmountable 71 point lead over Cambridge’s Andre Meier (Subaru Impreza), Rotorua 16-year old Sloan Cox is a further point behind (Mitsubishi Lancer), as a battle emerges for runner-up.  In contrast, Meier leads the rookie standings over Northland’s Ben Jagger (Ford Fiesta).  Ahead by 92 points, Meier could take the one-shot rally title at what will be his ‘home’ event.
Mixed in with the four-wheel-drives, the Group N compliant two-wheel-drive Ford Fiesta’s include Australian Brendan Reeves who returns after a strong performance on debut in New Zealand in early June.  With Auckland’s Patrick Malley leading the class, he runs second in the Kiwi-2 two-wheel category which is held on the Saturday only.  Run behind the WRC field, the Kiwi-2 and classic competitors compete for their allocation of points in the one-day Smartwood by Alpwood Possum Bourne Memorial Rally.
Former Kiwi-2 champion Aaron Cook (Wellington) in a Honda Jazz has a 45-point lead over Patrick Malley’s Fiesta, with defending champion Dave Strong (Auckland) in a Honda Civic a further four points adrift of the lead.  Outside challengers for the category podium include Ben Jagger (Ford Fiesta) and Reg Cook (Nissan Micra).
A tight battle for the top comes to a head with the one-day event being the final round of the growing Classic Challenge Trophy.  Rob Wylie (Auckland) in the Nissan 240RS leads Bert Murray (Palmerston North) in a Mazda RX7 by eight points with a mathematical chance the lead could swap to decide the winner.  To claim his maiden national title, Wylie needs to finish no less than second for the day.
“I’ve been doing that,” said Wylie of his consistent performance this season.  “So theoretically, all things being equal – it shouldn’t be a problem – it’s our title to lose; it’s about the championship not one event.   So all we have to do is our best – do what we’ve done and see how the cards fall.”
Starting from Hamilton’s Mystery Creek Event Centre on Friday morning (29th August), the teams cover four stages in the Waitomo region before a 3.14km charge around the Mystery Creek Super Special early in the evening.  Saturday’s six stages head north to the Franklin and Port Waikato reaches, including a return to Mystery Creek for a second display in front of the world’s best team bosses.
The podium ceremony for the championship is split with the Kiwi-2 and classic field accolades awarded on the Saturday night while the overall honours are presented during the WRC prizegiving on the Sunday afternoon.
Vantage Aluminium Joinery New Zealand Rally Championship - Goldstar driver championship points (after round four of six) - top-ten
1 Hayden Paddon (Geraldine)    196
2 Chris West (Christchurch)      167
3 Stewart Taylor (Hastings)       139
4 Brett Martin (Masterton)         134
5 Richard Mason (Masterton)     129
6 Dean Sumner (Rotorua)          98
7 Callum McInnes (Tauranga)    93
8 Emma Gilmour (Rotorua)        82
9 Andre Meier (Cambridge)        80
10 Sloan Cox (Rotorua)             79
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