Some of the big guns in New Zealand rallying will be back in action again at the Catlins Coast Rally down south on August 8.
With the country continuing to emerge from the Coronavirus, it’s starting to give competitors more confidence to get their cars out of the garage and onto the gravel.
They’ve been lured south with the promise of over 150 kilometres over six stages, and just 85 kilometres of touring.
Hayden Paddon will lead the field away in his Hyundai i20 AP4. While it is expected that Paddon will win the rally by minutes, he’ll be more concerned about ‘keeping his eye in’, rather than taking home trophies.
Already nearly 60 entries have been received, with Matt Summerfield likely to be the nearest challenger in his Mitsubishi Mirage.
Throw in young gun Robbie Stokes in a Fiesta AP4, Ben Hunt in a Subaru H6, and names like Andrew Graves (Evo), Marcus van Klink (Mazda RX8) and Brent Rawstron in his iconic Ford Escort RS1800, and it’s easy to see that this will be a popular rally for spectators as well.
* * * * * *
Speaking of Paddon, the former WRC star has announced program of events that will see him enter a number of rallies and circuit races.
“With our WRC and NZRC plans somewhat blown to pieces this year, we have focused on putting together a good variation of events to ensure we are keeping match fit, but also some iconic events that allow us to push our limits,” Paddon said.
“It’s an ever-evolving plan but we are looking at a mix of rallies, circuit racing, and hill climb events.”
After Catlins, he’ll enter the Ashley Forest Rallysprint in September in his ‘rallysprint spec’ Hyundai, before heading north for the Rally NZ test event in mid-November.
He’ll also enter four rounds of the SIERDC Endurance race series, all while continuing to push forward with his electric rally car development.
“We are still putting together plans around our Hyundai Kona EV test and launch plan which will be happening over the next few months and is incredibly exciting,” Paddon added.
“Progress is going well and it promises to be every bit as good as what we hoped for.”
* * * * * *
Across the Tasman, rallies in Victoria don’t look likely to resume for many months, as the second wave of COVID-19 spreads quickly through Melbourne and its suburbs.
This has meant that over five million Victorians have been put back into Stage 3 lockdowns for a minimum of six weeks.
The first round of the Victorian state championship is not scheduled to be held until September 20, but the rally’s clerk of course has admitted that’s going to be a long shot.
“It could go either way so we remain optimistic it may still happen, and want to give it the best chance we can,” he said.
“The big ticket Item is that we will need groups of 50 people outdoors for it to happen.”
On current statistics, that isn’t going to happen. With Victorians locked down and unable to leave the state, it appears that their rally season may well be over before it even began.
* * * * * *
Sebastien Ogier has had a lucky break heading towards the WRC’s resumption in September, with starting order rules change for Rally Estonia.
The rally will take place over just two days, with 70 per cent of the running scheduled on Saturday.
This means that the WRC leader would have been at a significant disadvantage as he would have had to sweep the dusty roads for the entirety of Day 1 and therefore the majority of the rally.
The new rule now stipulates the Ogier will only need to be the first car on the road for the first loop of stages on Saturday.
After that, the running order will revert to what it would normally be on day two of a WRC round, with the rally leader the last of the WRC cars to start, and so on.
A lucky break for Ogier? Not really, it’s a commonsense decision that ensures that the rally is run as fairly as possible.
In 2020, the rulebook is an ever-changing document, and so it should be.