Motorsport: Fans' double treat in rally season-opener

By Eric Thompson

Paddon and Kennard’s Hyundai team on debut in Otago, and defending champs unveil new Subaru.
Hayden Paddon is set to debut the new Hyundai i20 rally car in Otago.
Hayden Paddon is set to debut the new Hyundai i20 rally car in Otago.

The opening round of the New Zealand Rally Championships, Rally Otago, this weekend will be a treat for fans of the sport.

First up New Zealand's only fulltime World Rally Championship driver Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard are debuting the Hyundai New Zealand Rally Team, and the new Hyundai i20 rally car built in Auckland by Force Motorsport.

The WRC duo are doing two rounds of the NZRC, the International Rally of Whangarei is the other, as a thank you for all the people who helped them over the past years to achieve their ultimate goal.

"Its always good to come back here and get out some great stages," said Paddon.

"There are more public road stages this year, not so many forestry stages and quite a lot of stages we haven't done before so it's always nice to add the challenges of new stages to an event we know well.

"Firstly we're out to enjoy ourselves and secondly, to develop the car. We've got a long-term project with Hyundai with this car so we want to start getting it sorted for the future for other rallies that we're doing and potentially other rallies that other drivers are doing in the car.

"At the moment, results aren't important for us here. It's about going out and doing our thing and enjoying ourselves. From a personal perspective, we don't have to prove anything. We're here to help this project for the long term."

And defending national champions Ben Hunt and Tony Rawson are unveiling their 2016 Subaru Impreza WRX this weekend.

The car went from a production model, to a bare shell, to a rally-ready, factory-based STi with added suspension, gearbox and engine modifications to make sure it can go the distance.

"I have always dreamed of rallying a Subaru as all my childhood heroes like Colin McRae and Possum Bourne were driving them," said Hunt.

"It is amazing to drive a car with such strong performance right out of the box.

"After the 50km shakedown I grew a lot of confidence and quickly became comfortable in the new surroundings. It is just such a great package and I'm confident that the reliability of having a Subaru will see us come into our own over the next three rallies."

Another frontrunner will be Emma Gilmour, along with co-driver Anthony McLoughlin, and the pair are looking to pick up where they left off last season.

Gilmour finished fifth overall scoring a podium finish at the last round and winning a stage along the way.

"We mean to build on that positive momentum from the end of last season," she said.

"Going into 2016 we feel excited about the continued development we have achieved with the Suzuki, which puts us in a stronger position."

Last year's runners-up Phil Campbell and Venita Fabbro are sticking with their tried and tested Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, as is David Holder. Targa New Zealand champion Glenn Inkster returns to fulltime NZRC competition in a Skoda Fabia.

They will have stiff competition in the likes of Matt and Nicole Summerfield, who claimed their maiden NZRC round win at the final event of 2015, and the returning Sloan Cox, National Junior Rally champion Lance Williams and 2012 championship runner-up Matt Jansen. The classic field includes former WRC driver Markko Martin.

Today's competitive stages start on the fast public roads west of Oamaru, including a stage not run for 30 years and the return of the iconic high country Danseys Pass road last run in this direction in 2010.

The day ends with a super special street stage in downtown Dunedin.

Tomorrow's itinerary takes competitors to an array of fast roads near Middlemarch, and the classic Waipori Gorge and Kuri Bush stages. The rally's competitive stages total over 273km.

- NZ Herald

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