Who's pumped for this weekend's Rally New Zealand?

Kiwi rally star Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard are looking forward to next week’s Repco Rally New Zealand, the first time the FIA World Rally Championship event has been run in New Zealand for ten years.

The pair compete in their Hyundai i20 N Rally2 car under the Hyundai New Zealand Rally team banner in the Rally2 category against five international drivers and six other New Zealanders. The team purchased the Hyundai i20 N Rally2 this season and ran it in three European events while investing time and resources in its preparation and development which earned them a very pleasing third place at Rally Finland in August. Then the car was airfreighted down-under to contest Rally New Zealand.

Hyundai New Zealand Rally team car

Paddon’s goal is to win the WRC2 (or Rally2) category, where he’s expecting a good battle with fellow Kiwis V8 Supercars champ Shane van Gisbergen and Ben Hunt, as well as leading Australian rally driver Harry Bates. A Rally2 category win would make Paddon the top-placed New Zealander, an honour he’s earned four times previously at two non-WRC and two WRC editions of Rally New Zealand. Rally New Zealand also counts as two rounds of the New Zealand Rally Championship, which Paddon leads following three wins at the first three NZRC events of the season, so he’ll also be aiming to secure his sixth NZRC title.

Paddon is fresh from two recent wins, albeit in different Hyundais to the Rally2-spec i20 N which he’ll be driving next week. Earlier in September Paddon piloted the all-electric Hyundai Kona rally car to victory at the Ashley Forest Rallysprint, the second win in just two events for the EV and a significant milestone for the team who designed and developed 80 percent of the EV rally car in-house. He also won a Welsh rally, part of the Tour European Rally championship in a Hyundai i20 R5, his first ever win on tarmac.

The team has also been busy preparing the Rally2 car for three days of intense competition on some of the best rallying roads New Zealand has to offer. They’ve been able to run a small development test with the car and have a final test run this Sunday on a closed road near Tauranga before Paddon and Kennard spend two and a half day doing reconnaissance of the rally stages. On Thursday evening, the rally gets underway with the ceremonial start and a super special stage around the Pukekawa Auckland Domain.

The rally route involves 275 km of competition across 17 special stages from 29 September to 2 October. It takes competitors from the rally base on Auckland’s waterfront southwest to Whaanga Coast near Raglan, northwest to the Kaipara Hills and wraps up near Whitford on a purpose-built rally stage.

Paddon says: “It was good to get a good result on the board in Finland to conclude this year’s European tour and we made some big gains with the new Hyundai i20 N Rally2 car. We’re happy with where we’re at for Rally New Zealand but have more development to do to with the car to continue improving longer term.

“The events in Wales and Ashley Forest offered different conditions to what’s coming at Rally New Zealand, but seat time is seat time, and it all helps.

“Seeing the WRC back in New Zealand is something I’m very proud of for the New Zealand rally community. I’m grateful for the work done by a great team of people to make this happen. I’m excited to tackle these awesome rallying roads again in our Hyundai Rally2 car with our own homegrown team.

“With the Rally2 and R5 cars competing in the same category, there’s going to be some great competition. Between Ben, Shane and Harry, I’m expecting there to be close competition which I’m looking forward to.

“Rally fans are in for a real treat as Rally New Zealand once again features on the world stage. The hybrid Rally1 cars and drivers are going to be a sight to behold on some of the most spectacular stages in the world. The Auckland Domain stage, with free public access on Thursday night, will be an amazing way to start the event.

“Our goal is simple, to win WRC2. There have been a lot of questions about the overall result, but the gap is now too big between Rally1 and Rally2 cars for us to even consider competing with them, but we will give it everything we’ve got!”

Hyundai New Zealand CEO Andy Sinclair says: “We couldn’t be more excited to watch Hayden and John compete on home soil and contest the Rally New Zealand WRC2 title on our terms with an i20 N Rally2 car and all-Kiwi team. We’re proud of all that we’ve achieved together since 2014 and will simply enjoy this historical moment for Hyundai New Zealand Rally.

“We encourage fans to show their support for Hayden out on the stages by grabbing a Hyundai New Zealand Rally flag from the Rally Village in Wynyard Quarter or any of our Auckland and Waikato dealerships.”

Paddon and Hyundai New Zealand Rally appreciate the support of Hyundai New Zealand, Mitre 10 Trade, Z Energy, Makita, Bailey Caravans, Ben Nevis Station, Winmax Brakes, Gravity Internet, Pak N’ Save, Bars Bugs, Pirelli, OMP/Racer Products, Mike Greer Homes, Bartercard, Accessman, Sign It Signs, Carters Tyre Service, ETCO, MITO and Provident Insurance.

Keep up with news on Hayden Paddon and the Hyundai New Zealand Rally team via the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/paddonrallysport.

Article by Kate Gordon Smith
Images by Tayler Burke