New Zealand’s leading rally teams are gearing up to take whatever scraps they can from this weekend’s fourth round of the national series, the Rally of Hawke’s Bay.
After three wins from three starts, Hayden Paddon only needs to finish the one day, six stage event to wrap up another New Zealand Rally Championship title in his Hyundai i20 AP4.
That won’t stop his rivals from pushing the limits in a bid to keep pace with the former WRC star though.
Only Ben Hunt (Subaru) and Regan Ross (Ford) are still able to take the title from Paddon, but the list of drivers who want a piece of the action is long and credible.
Raana Horan (Skoda), Robbie Stokes and Phil Campbell (Fiestas), Matt Summerfield (Mitsubishi), Jack Hawkeswood (Mazda) and Mike Young (Subaru) are just some of those with a point to prove.
Then there’s young gun Ari Pettigrew, who’ll make his four-wheel drive debut after dominating the two-wheel drive field in his BMW this year.
Pettigrew will be behind the wheel of a Ralliart NZ Mitsubishi Mirage AP4, and his times will be some of the most watched on the day.
Stokes is coming off a first stage retirement at South Canterbury, but his first split time on that event was actually faster than Paddon’s, giving him reason for optimism.
“If we are in that ball park, I will be very satisfied, but we will have the odds stacked against us as I have never driven the Hawkes Bay roads,” Stokes said.
“There has been little pre-event in-car footage to watch either, so recce on Friday will be the very first time seeing the roads.”
Another future star, Jack Hawkeswood, will also come into the event under prepared. A big crash in round two a Whangarei destroyed his Mazda 2 and the Force Motorsport team have since been burning the midnight oil in order to get a new shell finished.
As recently as Tuesday this week, the new car was still “a bit naked” according to Hawkeswood, so expect a consistent drive from the youngster, rather than an all out attack.
On his second NZRC event in a row, Mike Young will be looking for a stronger performance in his borrowed Subaru Impreza WRX.
Having recently moved back home after a stint in Australia, Young is the reigning West Australian Rally Champion in a Subaru, and in a similar car this weekend, he’s expected to be right in the running for a podium place.
His car suffered mechanical gremlins in Canterbury, but with those sorted, the experienced Asia Pacific Rally Championship competitor should impress.
There’ll be the usual group of punters pushing for the two-wheel drive prize, including Escort drivers Jeff Judd, Shane Murland and Anthony Jones, and Mazda RX7 mounted John Silcock and Charlie Evans.
Hawkes Bay Rally crews will tackle 156km of competitive distance over the six stages in what promises to be a gruelling event.
Emma’s Extreme Adventure
Emma Gilmour will be missing from this weekend’s NZRC round as the Dunedin car dealer heads overseas on her latest motorsport adventure.
Gilmour hasn’t revealed details of exactly what she’s up to, but joining the dots may lead one to believe she’s set to contest the third round of the Extreme E series in Greenland next month.
“(I) can’t believe it’s finally time to head off on my next motorsport adventure! We’ll share more details about what I’m up to in the coming weeks,” she said on social media.
Last weekend she sat beside Hayden Paddon when he tested his i20 AP4 and electric Kona rally cars, just days before setting off overseas.
Gilmour is a reserve driver for the Veloce Racing team, which features Stephane Sarrazin and female star Jamie Chadwick.
The team is currently eighth out of nine teams in the series.