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Vantage New Zealand Rally Championship drivers have added impetus to measure against a strong off-shore competitor line-up at this weekends NAC Insurance International Rally of Whangarei (6-7 June).

The third round of both the domestic series and Asia Pacific Rally Championship, using roads in the Whangarei and Kaipara districts, has become an annual opportunity for drivers to feature on an international stage.  Vantage New Zealand Rally Championship teams have won the Whangarei event outright for the past two years.

Against teams from far-flung locations as Japan, Finland and India, its three-time regional series champion Australian Cody Crocker that’s viewed as the bench-mark in the latest model Subaru Impreza.

With two New Zealand based teams running in the same competition, the start order is somewhat segregated, placing the international category cars ahead of the local series.   Respectively second and third in the current Vantage New Zealand Rally Championship standings, Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard (Geraldine, Mitsubishi), Emma Gilmour and Rhianon Smyth (Hamilton, Subaru), will start ahead of leader Richard and Sara Mason (Masterton, Subaru).

Trailing the Mason’s by ten points, Paddon says there are a lot of weather scenarios that could affect the championship equation and event result in the weekend – the third of five rounds in the New Zealand series.

“I guess the biggest unknown is the road conditions.  We’re third on the road, whereas normally we’re tenth, along with the rest of the New Zealand field, so it is going to be an unknown,” said the 22-year-old.  “With the first loop of stages, if it’s going to be dry, there’s normally quite a lot of gravel there that we will have to contend with.  So if that was the case the morning loops are going to be a case of competing and beating the international Asia Pacific field and then in the afternoons look at it as an overall picture, when we’re on a more even road surface.  Then again, if it’s raining, it could be the reverse.  It could be an advantage being up the front.  I guess you could say between now and then I’ll be doing a bit of rain dancing.”

Also a qualifying round for the Pirelli Star Driver programme that has elevated Mark Tapper to the world stage, Paddon says that’s another title position he’s chasing for the weekend.

Starting from fifth will be Gilmour’s highest road position for an international event.  Switching to her newer specification Subaru Impreza run by Singapore based Motor Image, she says the newer car should offer an advantage on the faster style roads.

“Its grip and cornering speeds on the fourth and fifth gear corners that is better than the older car I usually drive in the national series,” said Gilmour. “It sits on the road better and gives you more confidence.”

With the Mason’s scheduled to start from eighth position, they lead the remainder of the New Zealand field, with Dean Sumner and co-driver Paul Fallon (Rotorua, Mitsubishi) running ahead of 2008 event winner Chris West and co-driver Chris Cobham (Christchurch, Mitsubishi).

The competition:

Whangarei teams competing at home include helicopter pilot Kingsley Thompson and co-driver Richard Ellis (Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X), while Kirsty Nelson returns to the Vantage New Zealand Rally Championship with co-driver Mal Peden in a Subaru Impreza.  Championship leading two-wheel driver campaigner Ben Jagger and co-driver Ben Hawkins (Ford Fiesta) are the only Whangarei based team in the production Group N3 category – of five entrants.

Heading that field will be a charged Patrick Malley and co-driver Malcolm Read (Auckland, Ford Fiesta), after crashing heavily at the last round on the Otago roads and dropping to fourth in the two-wheel drive standings.

Between Malley, the defending series champion, and the lead, are two Nelson teams: Daniel Harris and co-driver Darryn Green plus Dominick Unterberger and co-driver Warwick Martin.

Also point scoring rounds for the Premier group 2 Kiwi-2, and Classic competitions; Geof Argyle and co-driver Tarryn Cox (Palmerston North, Mitsubishi) lead the second field of mainly club competitors.  Veteran campaigner Reg Cook with co-driver Mark Ballantyne (Auckland, Nissan Micra) has a sizable lead over rookie Matt Summerfield and co-driver Dave Neill (Rangiora) in the bio-diesel powered Skoda Fabia vRS.

Defending Classic rally champion Rob Wylie and co-driver Paul Turner (Auckland) continue their series dominance in the ex-Teesdale Nissan 240RS, followed by Taranaki’s Mike and Helen Cameron in a Mitsubishi Lancer.

The event:

Spread over two days, the event starts from Whangarei’s Cameron Street mall from 6pm on the Friday evening, before the competition begins in earnest Saturday morning.

Using a mix of roads made famous by Rally New Zealand as part of the World Rally Championship, each day features a repeated loop of roads run once in the morning and again in the afternoon with a service break in Whangarei.

The afternoon repeated roads offer swept conditions for the front-running cars, which often up-turns competition times set in the morning to vary the overall event standings.

Bolstered by several significant spectator points, the Super Special Stage at Whangarei’s Pohe Island on Saturday includes additional entertainment facilities.  The iconic Hella bridge on the Wairere stage will be used twice in a journey that totals 280 kilometres of competition.

The teams return to the Whangarei Quayside Town Basin early Sunday afternoon for a champagne finish from 3pm.

Full details and timing can be found on the event website: www.rallywhangarei.co.nz
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