World rally star Hayden Paddon has his eyes set on winning the New Zealand Rally Championship this season but he might have some world class opposition standing in his way.
Paddon confirmed today that he will compete in five of the six rounds domestically – missing only June's Rally Canterbury because of a clash with his Hyundai WRC commitments.
But also trying to put together a full campaign is leading Australian driver Brendan Reeves, who won Rally Coromandel in a one-off drive last season, beating Paddon in the process. The two are good friends and Reeves works with Paddon as part of his gravel crew in the WRC.
If the Australian could confirm a full schedule it would be a huge boost to the sport locally.
"I am talking with Brendan every week," Paddon told The Herald. "We are trying to find ways to get him over here because I want to see it happen as well. It would be good for the championship to have that trans-Tasman rivalry even though we are good mates.
"It is almost a bit like the Neal Bates and Possum Bourne days – it would be nice to re-create that on this side of the Tasman."
It would also put some pressure back on Paddon to perform. He won every stage at last year's Rally New Zealand but with Reeves in the mix, it would replicate some of pressure he gets in the WRC.
"I rate Brendan very highly as a driver and as we saw at Coromandel last year he is definitely capable," Paddon said.
"It would be nice to have that sort of competition."
Paddon has won the NZRC on three occasions – the last in 2013 – and is eyeing up the chance of adding a fourth title this year despite missing a round.
"It is certainly a possibility especially when you consider you drop one of the first five rounds so it means if we finish all the rallies we don't miss out on any point-scoring opportunities," Paddon explained.
"It is always hard when you come back home because that is what is expected and in these sorts of situations from a competition point of view you have nothing to gain and everything to lose."
It has been a busy few months for Paddon and his team. He struggled with the Hyundai New Zealand i20 at Rally Coromandel in August but spent a bit of time making changes to it for Rally New Zealand. Those changes worked as he blitzed the field in November but they have since stripped the car and given it a full overhaul.
"We have done a full ground up re-build, changed a few components on the car and what not," Paddon said. "The guys have been busy over the last few months.
"We made some good progress in the last half of last year. At least we knew from that we had a base to work with. I guess you could say that coming from what I have been doing overseas my standards are quite high so we are just trying to continuously develop it.
"We have changed the steering system; we have changed a few things in the transmission and suspension. A little bit in line with what I have been learning overseas. We are trying to replicate so of those ideas into this car as well.
"We have a test in the South Island in a couple of weeks and then we will turn it around in time for Dunedin."
Meanwhile Reeves definitely won't make the start line in Otago next month but is hopeful of putting together the budget for the rest of the season.
"We have been working hard in the off-season to get over," Reeves said. "There is still plenty of time to get over to do the rest of the championship.
"I really want to get over and compete so we will keep pushing forward."
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