After a year off, the gravel roads of Northland will again welcome the roar of cars going sideways at the Rally of Whangārei this weekend.
Former World Rally Championship contestant Hayden Paddon is itching to get back onto some of the best rally roads in the world, after dominating the opening round of the New Zealand Rally Championships near Dunedin, leading Josh Marston home by seven minutes.
"It's all about the camber. There's not even much in New Zealand and nowhere else in the world quite like it [gravel roads up North]," Paddon told the Weekend Herald.
"You're jumping over the crown of the road from corner to corner. It's quite a surreal sensation, really. You're also using the camber to slingshot the car from corner to corner and you have to be very aware of it and use it like it's a friend."
Although the best rally driver in New Zealand, Paddon isn't complacent about the competition. There are some fast, established drivers looking to knock Paddon off his perch, and a few young guns who want to make a name for themselves.
"The NZRC is quite competitive this year. If you look back at Dunedin, there were only eight seconds separating second to eighth. You've got people like Ben Hunt, Emma Gilmour and others who have been around for a while along with a couple of young guys coming through who are pretty quick like Robbie Stokes and Jack Hawkeswood.
"It'll be interesting to see how they go this weekend and they'll be keeping the pressure on us. We're expected to be at the front and if we're not, why not? If we are at the front that's where we supposed to be, so sometimes we're on a hiding to nothing," said Paddon.
The 34-year-old and his team had the car working well at Rally Otago. Unlike when he was competing in the WRC, New Zealand rally roads have much the same characteristics. Fast, open and predominately flowing stages are unlike some rallies overseas where one event is gravel, another snow, another tarmac and others rock-strewn mine fields.
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"I find in New Zealand that when you've got the car [working really well] you only have to fine-tune it. Maybe a few suspension clicks here and there and a bit of ride-height adjustment. Once you've got the car working in the window it will generally work well in all the rallies in New Zealand," he said.
Today's action sees competitors head north out of Whangārei. Tomorrow's stages take competitors south and west of the city.