The battle for supremacy in the Vantage Aluminium Joinery New Zealand Rally Championship resumes this weekend with a two-day charge through the Hawke’s Bay region for the Tomoana Warehousing Rally Hawke’s Bay 2008 (26-27 July).


The fourth of six rounds in the 2008 season, it has been seven weeks since the 24-strong field last squared off, with four teams now in the title hot-seat.  As the series enters an intense phase on the run to the final in September, the Hawke’s Bay event will see new overall championship leader Hayden Paddon (Geraldine) start at the head of the field.


Faced with the same prospect of ‘road-sweeping’ for his rivals at the event in 2007, Paddon says he has learned plenty in the last year to make the most of the sometimes difficult position. 


“We struggled on the gravel at the first round (this year) – so it’s more pulling my driving back a bit.  When it’s swept I can attack, but when there is gravel you have to brake a bit earlier and try carrying more speed through the corners – which is hard from a race perspective.  So it’s really difficult to measure and get the driving speed right,” said the 21-year old.


While the Paddon Direct Mitsubishi pilot has a 23-point lead in the standings, the advantage is less than championship points on offer for one of the two days being contested:


“I’ve had people say maybe we should protect our lead, but at the end of the day I’m early in my career so the way to get noticed is to go win rallies, not be second.  So we are going 110% but there is a lot of tough competition again this year and we’ll just try get as much speed out of myself and the car for this event. I think we will be pretty good – especially over the repeated stages.  Plus if it rains, being first on the road will be an advantage – but what will be will be.”


Now in second and on the back of his second outright rally win in as many events, Christchurch’s Chris West and co-driver Garry Cowan start their Andrew Simms Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 9 behind Paddon.


Dropping to third following a high-speed roll-over at the preceding Whangarei round, Masterton’s Richard and Sara Mason have an almost near-new car to attempt a re-claim on the championship title.  The the highest placed Subaru team are now 32 points behind Paddon.


Starting from sixth position, Hastings driver Stewart Taylor and co-driver Warwick Searle have a favoured chance in their Tomoana Warehousing Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 9. With home-town laurels on offer, the Taylor team have made small changes to rectify an engine ailment that hampered their previous top-team pace.

Another team with changes, Subaru’s Emma Gilmour has partner Glenn Macneall alongside as co-driver while he is in-between rounds of the P-WRC.


A further two-places back starting from ninth, China’s Liu Cao Dong and Australian co-driver Anthony McLoughlin will debut a brand new Subaru Impreza N14 Group N car – built by Possum Bourne MotorSport.  With a string of top-four placings at international events held in China, the only foreigners in the rally are using it as a shake-down for the Repco Rally New Zealand late in August.


With the two-wheel drive class led by Wellington’s Aaron Cook in the Honda Jazz, there are six cars in the category – including former Hastings locals Dermott and Linzi Malley.  Returning in a Ford Fiesta – they will compete alongside son Patrick, who is currently placed second in the Fiesta Sporting Trophy and Group N 2WD category.


The penultimate round for the classic cars, the six-strong field is headed by Auckland’s Rob Wylie in the Nissan 240RS.  Although consistency has rewarded Wylie and co-driver Paul Turner – they will start behind inaugural class champions Bert Murray and co-driver Stu Jenkinson (Mazda RX7).


Using a mixture of forestry style and county roads, the eleven all-gravel stages incorporate area to the north of Napier and in-land Wairoa.  Highly regarded for carving a competitive path through rugged yet scenic countryside, the flowing nature of the Hawke’s Bay roads lends an advantage to drivers with a high-speed skill-set.


Beginning on Friday at 6pm with a car show and autograph session at Napier’s Soundshell on Marine Parade, the ceremonial start for the cars is at 7pm.


Relocating to Wairoa for Saturday’s 8am start of competition, the teams cover six gravel stages totalling 163.72km before returning to Napier for an over-night stop.

Re-starting the final day at 7:20am, a further fives stages and 100.36km will conclude with a prizegiving ceremony next to Napier’s aquarium along Marine Parade from 3:55pm.

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