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New Zealand’s top rally duo, Hayden Paddon and John Kennard, head to this week’s International Rally of Whangarei with one goal – to win the top-class rally for the fourth time.

Paddon, from Geraldine, and Kennard, from Blenheim, have already won two Production World Rally Championship events in Portugal and Argentina this year and while the Whangarei event is one step down on the world rally-sport ladder, the pair still faces a tough challenge to secure victory.

They are one of 76 crews entered for the two-day event, which features the largest Asia Pacific Rally Championship field ever seen in Whangarei including current APRC points’ leader and former World Rally Championship driver Chris Atkinson in the ever-improving Proton Satria Neo S2000. Paddon can also expect tough competition from Atkinson’s Proton team-mate Alister McRae and Team MRF Mitsubishi drivers Katsu Taguchi, from Japan, and Gaurav Gill, from India.

“This will be the most competitive year here, with a lot of APRC teams plus our Kiwi competitors to consider,” says 24-year-old Paddon who won Rally Whangarei in 2007, 2009 and 2010. “The weather in July can also play a big part, but I’m feeling good and also feel we have made some more good improvements with the car.”

Paddon pilots a Subaru STI with new support from Placemakers at this year’s event, a change from the familiar green Mitsubishis in which he won the event previously. The popular driver also competes in a Subaru for his offshore events; it’s built and run by Belgium-based Symtech Racing. One of the key aims for Paddon’s 2011 season is complete as many competitive kilometres as possible, hence supplementing his PWRC events with as many New Zealand events as time and budget allow. He’s also been making the most of the opportunities to learn about and develop performance refinements in either car and apply similar enhancements to the other car.

“Straight after we got back from Argentina we did another test with our New Zealand car, focussing on specific areas that we struggled with in Argentina and at Rally New Zealand, particularly the rear suspension and geometry. Before each event we have made a good gain and we feel we have made another good gain with the testing we’ve done before Whangarei. However, time always tells!”

The International Rally of Whangarei counts as the fourth APRC round; it’s also the fourth round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC).

Paddon is entered for the NZRC and won the first two rounds, Rally Otago and Rally New Zealand, to take an early lead in the national championship he’s won twice previously. Having missed the third NZRC round, fellow two-time championship winner Richard Mason now has the NZRC lead.

“In terms of the NZRC, it is a matter of playing it round-by-round at the moment. We just have to concentrate on a good result in Whangarei and then make a plan of attack for the remainder of the year.

“Every event, every opportunity to compete aids the overall campaign for 2011. Driving our New Zealand Subaru continues to contribute to our PWRC performance. We’re looking forward to Whangarei as it’s an event John and I always enjoy. We have already identified the areas we struggled with in Argentina and, after talking with our European team, we have a few things to try in Whangarei as part of our preparation for Rally Finland, which is our next PWRC event just two weeks after Whangarei.”

The rally action on Saturday and Sunday takes competitors as far south as Maungaturoto and back to Whangarei for the super special stage at Pohe Island before wrapping up with the ceremonial finish at Quayside Town Basin on Sunday afternoon. News, the rally itinerary, map and spectator information are available from the event website www.rallywhangarei.co.nz.

Photo: Alan McDonald.

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