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This weekend’s second round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) heads to Northland’s fast and flowing roads being used for the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship event held from 17 to 19 May.
 
Headlined by foreign drivers, the International Rally of Whangarei in association with the Brian Green Property Group sees the NZRC field split due to vehicle eligibility under the FIA rules. A number of the international rule eligible cars will run at the head of the field while the remainder and majority of the field will follow behind minutes later in a subsidiary field. The journey takes in roads south of Whangarei and through the Kaipara district.
 
Heading that line up will be current overall Goldstar point’s leader Hayden Paddon of Geraldine, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9. Paddon and and Blenheim based John Kennard have 44 points after their opening round win on the Otago roads in early April. The duo return to an event they have won three times previously and while they’re not eligible for the outright win this year Paddon says he intends posting times to eclipse those set by the internationals.
 
“Definitely,” says Paddon the 2011 Production World Rally Champion. “Particularly with (Esapekka) Lappi – he is a guy we have to target when we go back to Europe so it would be nice to set competitive times compared to his. We know what his car is like and while it is probably superior to ours we know we’ve got a good package that probably suits the Whangarei roads better. So it will be close.
 
“Whangarei also gives us a good chance to fine tune our driving and get quality seat time so we will be pushing from start to finish. Plus there is the uncertainty as to how many rounds we can do this year in the NZRC so we will take it one rally at a time.”
 
Defending and multiple NZRC champion Richard Mason and co-driving wife Sara from Masterton have struggled with the Whangarei roads previously and Mason confesses it’s not his strength event compared to the likes of Paddon. Second overall, 12 points behind Paddon he has led the rally on a number of occasions but never finished better than third.
 
“Personally I think my driving style isn’t particularly suited to the roads. So we have to adapt and I have to make an adjustment. That’s where Hayden (Paddon) and I differ. Really we couldn’t be two people that drive with more different styles – although from the outside we appear similar,” said Mason.
 
“Plus we’ve been working hard on the car between Otago and Whangarei and we hope it will be at the pointy end.”
 
Currently third in the standings on 21 points, Nelson’s Ben Hunt and co-driver Tony Rawstorn will run their Group N specification Subaru STI with the international entrants – while still eligible for championship points.
 
Equally, the latest specification R2 Ford Fiesta cars of Christchurch’s Josh Marston (co-driver Mal Peden) and Tauranga’s Phil Campbell (co-driver Venita Fabbro) along with the earlier generation Fiesta of Mt Maunganui’s David Holder (co-driver Josh Theobald) will still collect overall Goldstar points even though they will run ahead of the rest of the field. That includes Queensland’s Matt van Tuinen and Erin Kelly, fifth in the standings and running their Subaru STI third on the road for the first day.
 
Despite the mixing of fields the championship teams are split in to three category groups: Super Rally supported by Auto Finance Direct for modern vehicles that include the likes of Paddon, Mason, Hunt, van Tuinen, and the two-wheel-drive Ford Fiesta’s and the rally debuting Suzuki Swift of Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour. BNT Historic Rally is for cars pre 1987 with teams also earning points toward the overall Goldstar New Zealand championship title. Currently headed by Christchurch’s Deane Buist, he has opted to miss the North Island long-haul event, handing the point’s advantage to fellow Cantabrian Jeff Judd and co-driver Malcolm Read in the Ford Escort RS1800. Defending champion Marcus van Klink is sixth in the standings: 28 behind Judd’s 35.
 
The third category, Gull Rally Challenge, is for those who wish to compete at championship level – for one day in generally older generation rally schedule compliant cars. Contesting the first day’s eight of the event’s 16 special stages; competitors start the event with a clean sheet. None of the entrants at the first round finished to score points leaving current contenders Graham Featherstone (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo7) or Scott Simpson (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo8) likely to be the first to the top of the table.
 
The rally covers 730.40km and gets underway on Friday 17 May with a pre-event autograph session in the Cameron St mall from 3:30pm. The cultural welcome and ceremonial start begins at 4:30pm with all the competing crews and cars taking part before being parked for the night ahead of Saturday’s action. Leaving Whangarei from 8am the route takes competitors over roads around Parahi in the south-west, Waipu Caves and Brooks – including the ‘Hella’ jump on Swamp Rd. They return to Whangarei for the brand new 1.25km Pohe Island ‘Super Special’ stage before a 20minute service break at the Town Basin. The route is repeated in the afternoon with Gull Rally Challenge competitors facing off for chance of bonus points and fuel vouchers at the day’s penultimate Parahi Ararua 2 special ‘power stage’ (33.43km). After completing a second run of the Pohe Island stage the remaining championship cars are then parked overnight following the service break.
Sunday begins at 6:55am and heads south through Waipu Gorge and on to Marohemo and Batley road, visiting Paparoa and Cassidy road before returning to Whangarei for a 20 minute service break. The teams repeat the stages in the early afternoon, with the final, Arcadia Cassidy 2 (26.20km), the ‘power stage’ for championship contenders. Fastest team in the Super Rally and Classic Rally categories will be rewarded with up to five bonus points down to one for fifth fastest in their respective category. In addition they earn cash of up to $500 for first, $300 for second and $200 for third.
 
Teams then return to the Quayside Town Basin for the ceremonial finish from 3:15pm.
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