What a busy few weeks we have had in New Zealand but once again we had a hugely enjoyable weekend at one of my favourite rallies in the world - Rally Otago. Huge thanks to the volunteers and organisers for once again, a top notch event!
Since arriving in NZ three weeks ago, it has been a busy time putting the finishing touches on this new Hyundai NZ rally project. The team at Force Motorsport did an amazing job building such a good car in only three months' time, and then with just one 60km test and five days after the test to iron out any gremlins, it was always going to be a tall order.
Even right up to shakedown there were still a lot of reliability issues to sort with such a new car, and in conjunction with our own team we were able to get these mostly all sorted before the start of the rally on Saturday morning. The reliability and the result from the weekend is huge testament to all the work, long hours and effort that everyone put in - which when you think of it to build, develop and brand new car and concept within three months, and then win its first rally is truly amazing. Thanks everyone involved including Andrew Hawkeswood, Force Motorsport and our own Paddon Rallysport team, Dad, Math, Neil, AD, Piran, John and Katie. Also the help and support from Mike, Sue and Amber from Reaction Racing was crucial to help give us a good reliable package from the 1.8L turbo.
Also a huge thanks to Hyundai NZ for joining us on this adventure and making this project possible to boost the future of New Zealand rallying. It was great to see the dealers and customers out on the event, enjoying and embracing it with us.
I have always said Rally Otago is one of my favourites and to win it for the fifth time is a nice bonus. But the priority of the weekend was never about the result, it was about enjoying ourselves on some amazing roads and developing this car for the future. Of course we had to have a go and some of the stage records including the final stage, Kuri Bush which was one incredible roller coaster.
It was also clear to see throughout the weekend that NZ rallying is in a good place. With 100 teams in the rally, the crowds that had gathered on the stages was truly impressive - and easily out did the number of spectators you find at WRC Rally Australia. It is a pleasure to drive at home, especially when the fans really appreciate it and show so much enthusiasm for rallying. Every year that it works in with the WRC calendar, we will make sure we get to Rally Otago!
As mentioned, this project with Hyundai NZ and Force Motorsport is still young. We will be doing Rally Whangarei with this car in a few weeks time, where we will be developing the car further, along with both Andrew and Inky's AP4 cars. After this, the car will be used throughout NZ in conjunction with the dealer network for PR events and ride days. The vision is that we will also try and get a young driver in the car for one event this year - something that we will build on further for next year. Before this however, we need to develop the car to a point where it is easy to drive, to help them adapt and get confidence in such an awesome car.
In terms of the car we obviously have some small things to work through and can improve it a lot, which is very promising. There has been some talk about the engine we are running and to be honest, they engine is almost the least important part of the car. In fact this car has less power than our old green car, but this car makes up for it all with the chassis, suspension and how much you can drive this car like a WRC car. It is a proper rally car built from the ground up, and a car that is the closest sensation you will get to driving a WRC car. Also the running costs as expected were minimal during the event, having to only replace two tie rod ends throughout the two day rally.
It was a hugely successful debut for Hyundai NZ Rally team, which is a testament to the team. Now we have a base to work from, we will continue to strive forward and build things for the future - obviously looking forward to Whanagrei Rally.
Before then however, we have our next WRC adventure, which we leave for today - Rally Argentina. Renowned as one of the roughest and toughest events on the calendar, recent bad weather means it could be much the same again. We saw last year how much attrition affected the rally, so a sensible approach will be key, accessing the conditions during recce and driving accordingly. In the meantime it's a busy week ahead getting all the prep work and pace notes ready, where we will be looking for another good top 5 result. Once we then return to Europe from Rally Portugal onwards, it will be full attack for podiums on all gravel rally's!
We recently launched our Rally Australia tours for November. Limited spaces are filling up fast, so if your interested in more info or bookings, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Lastly - Hyundai NZ have this week launched a new special edition 'Hayden' Santa Fe. It's a great car packed with plenty of extras that I was involved in putting together and if I don't say so myself - looks quite sharp. Also the package that it comes with includes a rally ride, merchandise and a chance to join us at Rally Australia. There are only 50 available nationwide, so if you interested let us know or contact your local dealer.
Thanks for everyone's support and messages - it is hugely appreciated!