National Championship Battle Commences

THE sheer number of AP4 and R5 rally cars entered in the season-opening Otago Rally this weekend, make the pointy end of the field the sharpest in recent history.

Combined with some top-performing driver and car marque merry-go-round changes, the shake-up is set to be substantial.

Seeded at the top of the pile is the previously unbeatable Hayden Paddon, who remains committed to his Hyundai i20 AP4.

He has an enviable record win rate at Otago with eight first place finishes to his name.

Never one to become complacent, Cromwell-based Paddon has upped his preparation game as he eyes a return to world rallying.

He will drive a Hyundai Motorsport-built WRC2 car in two of the second-tier category’s events.

After spending last year committed to his business and preparing his 2022 WRC Rally Estonia and Finland campaign, building up to a full season 2023 WRC2 assault, time for maintaining his fitness was minimal.

Paddon is now working closely with his new personal trainer and upping the cardio sessions.


“This year it’s just a matter of making time windows available to make sure I am in the best shape I can be by the time we head to Europe,” he said.

Stepping away from Subaru for the first time since he moved on from his 2WD Ford Fiesta days in 2013, Auckland’s Ben Hunt has made arguably the biggest move.

The 2015 and 2019 national champion has joined forces with Skoda New Zealand and the Giltrap Group to import a brand-new Skoda Fabia R5, built to FIA Rally 2 specifications, from the marque’s Czech Republic factory.

Hunt’s first test was worth the long, eight-month wait for its arrival.

“It was awesome,” he said, of his purpose-built rally car.

Hunt brings the R5 machine total to five, with Auckland’s Raana Horan and Papakura driver Kingsley Jones also electing for the Fabia models. In other big 2022 campaign upgrades, Todd Bawden, of Hamilton, his switched out his faithful Mitsubishi Evo for a Ford Fiesta R5, while Tauranga’s Andy Martin has secured a VW Polo R5 from Europe.

Another driver to change brands is former Mazda 2 charger Jack Hawkeswood, who moves to a Toyota Yaris AP4.

Toyota Gazoo Racing NZ (TGRNZ) is supporting him in his 2022 national championship campaign, which will culminate in the Auckland-based WRC Rally New Zealand event.

TGRNZ Operations and GR Marketing Coordinator Amanda Tollemache said the company’s decision to support Hawkeswood, who is the son of former NZRC champion Andrew, was built around TGRNZ’s ‘Finding NZ’s Next World Champion’ philosophy.

“The team is excited to dip their toes into rally and follow Jack’s journey this year,” she said.

Also joining the front-running mix will be the long-term rally campaigners hometown heroine Emma Gilmour (Suzuki Swift AP4) and Josh Marston (Holden Barina AP4), who finished runner-up at the 2021 Otago event.

Never discount Dylan Turner (Audi) and Matt Summerfield (Mitsubishi Mirage) in apair of AP4 cars, both of whom have podium-scoring ability in abundance.

The new crop of up-coming drivers is always a threat and snapping at Paddon’s heels as the second seed is young fast man Robbie Stokes in his Ford Fiesta AP4.

While running a leased Holden AP4 under the Paddon Motorsport banner, Ari Pettigrew steps up to his first full season in a 4WD machine.

Former Asia Pacific Rally Championship competitor Mike Young returns home for the New Zealand season and will be seeded 12th in a Subaru Impreza WRX.

Rally spokesman Roger Oakley labelled the national championship field as “very strong this year” with 52 teams entered across a range of classes.

“At the top end, we have nine different manufacturers represented in the top 10 seeds, which is a big endorsement of the compatibility and popularity of the AP4 and R5 classes,” Oakley said.

“There are 19 top-line AP4 or R5 entries, and it is going to be hugely competitive.

While everyone will be chasing Hayden Paddon, any of the competitors in the top dozen could take out the event,” he added.

Oakley appreciated that the world’s attention will be drawn to the Otago Rally with international audiences following Paddon’s and new McLaren Extreme E recruit Gilmour’s results.

The event’s partnership with Seattle-based media house DirtFish Media also assists in spreading the coverage globally.

“DirtFish has a fantastic reach within the worldwide rallying community, with world-class journalists.

They’ve impressed us with their passion for the sport and we know they are the perfect partner to help us showcase to the world the Otago Rally, our region and New Zealand rallying,” Oakley said.



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