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New Zealand’s premier rally drivers get to measure against the world’s best in just over a week’s time at the Repco Rally New Zealand (29-31 August 2008) – the 11th round of the World Rally Championship.
 
The penultimate round for the overall Goldstar category of New Zealand’s Vantage Aluminium Joinery Rally Championship; commitment is divided between title aspirations and the chance to scale the world standings.
 
Contested over the first two days of the three-day event, drivers in the production car Group N international category can opt to continue for the chance of being first New Zealand crew home.
 
Leading the New Zealand field are three teams who have entry in to the New Zealand round of the Production World Rally Championship (P-WRC).  Current Goldstar point’s leader Hayden Paddon (Geraldine) and Chris West (Christchurch) won entry through a Rally New Zealand scholarship, while Stewart Taylor (Hastings) negotiated the use of Amjad Farrah’s (Jordan) position when he discovered he was unable to compete in New Zealand.  The trio all use Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX version cars.
 
With a total of 14 four-wheel-drive New Zealand championship competitors, the chase for overall honours puts Hayden Paddon on the pedestal to be 29 points ahead of Chris West with Stewart Taylor in third, a further 28 points behind.
 
“I’m really looking forward to the whole P-WRC experience,” said the 27-year old Taylor.
“I’d say first and foremost I’ll be looking at consolidating our New Zealand championship position and to try hard as possible to be first kiwi home.  Although it will be great to be up with world Group N cars, it will be tough competition on a new tyre.”
 
Levelling the Group-N field, the teams all have to run the Pirelli Scorpion control tyre used at all WRC events – plus they have the option to run the higher-specification FIA control fuel.
 
Leading Subaru team in the current standings, Masterton’s Richard Mason has a climb from fifth place after dominating the opening two events of the six round series.
 
“We’re probably a lot like everyone else,” said Mason – who will lead non-FIA priority teams.  “(it is) unknown because of the layout this time with different tyres.  Having a tyre we’ve never used before will be quite a challenge – it’s still the same exciting event otherwise.”
 
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.”
 
Junior rally champion Hayden Paddon has a chance at wrapping up his title defence with a 71 point lead over Andre Meier from Cambridge (Subaru Impreza).  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.
 
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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