Motorsport: Five Kiwis on the pace at world events

By Eric Thompson

This weekend a handful of New Zealand drivers will be competing at an elite level

Matt Halliday will contest round three of the Blancpain Endurance series at Paul Ricard in France in his Audi R8.
Matt Halliday will contest round three of the Blancpain Endurance series at Paul Ricard in France in his Audi R8.

It's either feast or famine when it comes to New Zealand racecar drivers competing abroad. This weekend there are five, yes folks, five young flying Kiwis living the dream and plying their trade internationally at the elite level of motorsport.

We have Mitch Evans (see Driven for a fuller interview), Brendon Hartley, Matt Halliday, Richie Stanaway and Hayden Paddon all buckling up to take on the best in their respective categories.

On a domestic note, drivers line up for round three of the New Zealand Rally Championships on the gravel roads of the Manawatu for the one-day Daybreaker Rally. Second in the series, Richard Mason and co-driver Sara Mason will be keen to make up ground on championship leader Paddon who's racing overseas this weekend.

Hayden PaddonThe former production World Rally Champion and co-driver John Kennard are making their European World Rally Championship debut this weekend in the all-tarmac Ypres Rally in Belgium.

Paddon is with a team he knows well having won his world title with Symtech Racing in 2011. He and Kennard will be behind the wheel of a Pirelli-equipped Ford Fiesta S2000. Testing and qualifying has gone rather well, with Paddon setting the third-fastest time and knows there's more to come yet.

"The last two days of recce have gone well and we have made a good set of pace notes," said Paddon.

"We were third-quickest in qualifying so therefore will get the third pick after local Freddy Loix and Craig Breen. We're happy however, as [we are in] the first non-factory car, while still building confidence and getting more seat time."

Mitch EvansThe young Kiwi has just turned 19 and is champing at the bit to give himself the best birthday present so far in his racing career. After two dismal rounds in his GP2 campaign earlier in the year, Evans found his mojo again on the streets of Monaco and picked up a brace of third places to get himself back up the points table and now sits in seventh just 22 points off third place.

Tyres again will be a mitigating factor, especially as Pirelli have chosen a combination of hard and medium tyres, a pairing not used so far this season.

"Obviously a win at the British Grand Prix would be a very good present," said Evans. "It was my Mum's birthday on Friday as well. It would be a nice present for both of us. That would be the ultimate for me."

The GP2 races at Silverstone are live on Sky - race one Sunday, June 30: 1.35am on SKY Sport 2 and race 2 Sunday, June 30: 8.30pm on SKY Sport 3.Richie Stanaway

The rookie Porsche Supercup driver gets another chance to impress those in the know when he lines up at Silverstone for round three of his championship as a support class for the Formula One British Grand Prix.

Stanaway has put the cat among some very fancied pigeons in this hotly contested category. Not only does he lead the rookie standings by some considerable margin, he's fifth overall in the standings.

"I'm feeling a lot more comfortable in the car now that I've had some testing," said Stanaway. I'm looking forward to seeing what sort of result we can obtain this weekend.

"After finishing ninth my first race and seventh in the second I would like to keep the progression going and get inside the top five or even a podium."

That might be a bit of a big ask as Stanaway has never raced at Silverstone before, but he has proved to be a fast learner in the past.

Matt HallidayThe US-based Kiwi has flown across the Atlantic to slip into his Audi R8 to contest round three of the Blancpain Endurance series at Paul Ricard, France. Halliday has found his feet in endurance racing and loves the fact he's with a factory-backed team.

Halliday is in the third car in the team and as such his co-drivers, while extremely competent, are not quite up to his speed. Halliday himself isn't too perturbed about that and is concentrating on measuring his times against the number one car.

"I'm compared against all the other Audi cars and drivers and on paper the results don't seem that good," said Halliday.

"Motor racing is a complicated thing and not always what it seems ... It doesn't matter where the cars qualify, as long as you're as quick, or quicker, than the factory guys."

Brendon HartleyWith very little time to savour his great seventh place finish in the Le Mans 24 Hour race last weekend, Hartley had to pack his bags and head across the Atlantic to get ready for round eight of the North American Rolex Grand Am Endurance series.

Hartley has been flying back and forward for five weeks and has taken to sports car racing like a bear to honey. He's already been on the podium, set the fastest qualifying and race lap times and led a race or two before mechanical dramas set in.

"It's certainly been a busy few weeks but I'm just happy to be doing what I'm doing," said Hartley.

"The results are starting to come and I'll admit I've made the odd mistake, but the team can see that we are often the fastest car on track and have always been in a position to at least podium if not win."

- NZ Herald

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