The leading New Zealand Rally Championship contenders will look to take advantage of WRC star Hayden Paddon's absence at this weekend's Rally Canterbury.

Ben Hunt (Subaru), Matt Summerfield (Mitsubishi) and Emma Gilmour (Suzuki) all lie within striking distance of the Hyundai driver, who has won the opening two rounds of the 2018 championship but sits out this weekend as he prepares for his next WRC event in Sardinia.

Summerfield hails from the Canterbury region and is looking forward to his home event.
"There is some small advantage of being familiar with the area," Summerfield told The Herald.

"If anything it is more of a comfort thing. Things are pretty tight at the top when we are all going for it and all have our game on so to have that little advantage of being at home is quite good.

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"I don't really know the roads being in the forest.

"I think the weather is going to play a big part. From the pictures that I have seen the roads look in pretty could condition at the moment but being in the forest and with three runs they could cut up quite a bit by the end."

Hunt trails Paddon by 18 points but has a handy 27-point cushion over Summerfield and Gilmour. He too is looking forward to this event having learned his trade on similar roads in the South Island.

"I've always loved the forestry," the 2015 champion said. "Growing up in Nelson and being a diesel mechanic, working on forestry gear I am pretty passionate about it.

"I love going down to Canterbury or any other rallies that have some forestry in it. I have always enjoyed Canterbury – hopefully it isn't as bad as it was last year in terms of the mud and slush.

"They have got some fantastic roads down there. You have to be a little bit careful because it is a forest – there are trees and bigger rocks and bits and pieces and you have to be mindful not to puncture."

Australian rally champion Nathan Quinn will compete in his second successive NZRC event and showed improved pace the longer the Whangarei event went on.

The event sees the debut of Phil Campbell's Ford Fiesta AP4 car while Bathurst winner Greg Murphy returns after missing the Whanageri event due to a Supercars clash.

The one-day event features 10 stages, including the final two in darkness, which will test drivers in the Ashley Forest north of Christchurch.