Sports fans, including those with a passing interest in motorsport, will be hanging out this weekend to see the world's best drivers on dirt fizz around the gravel roads in the north of the North Island.

The Brother Rally New Zealand is round seven of the 13-event FIA World Rally Championship and is back on our shores after a year in Australia. Defending world champion Sebastien Loeb is joined by former world champion Petter Solberg and a host of others after their first title over the three days of the rally.

While it's marvellous to have the best of the best in the WRC here, rally aficionados will be keeping a watchful eye on flying Kiwi Hayden Paddon. The young man from Geraldine became the first New Zealander to win a world rally title when he clinched the Production World Rally Championship last year.

This year's he's stepped up into the S2000 category where he gets to play in a full-blown rally race car. After three rounds he's second in the championship behind Craig Breen, just six points back.


Breen has decided to drop the New Zealand leg of the title chase so Paddon has an opportunity not only to eat into the Irishman's lead, but in theory leap ahead. The Weekend Herald's thoughts though, go out to Breen whose co-driver Gareth Roberts was killed in an accident while competing in the Targa Florio Rally in Sicily last weekend.

Paddon, meanwhile, is favourite to win his home event in his Skoda Fabia S2000, especially as he's done more kilometres on these roads than most have had hot dinners.

"For a change, it's nice to be doing an event on roads I know," said Paddon. "Rally New Zealand is definitely one of my favourite events and nothing will beat winning at home.

"I'm keen to get all the other stuff done and out of the way so we can get into the car and start racing. We haven't done a WRC event since Portugal at the end of March ...

"We've been studying a lot of in-car footage from Portugal in an effort to get the ideal set-up."

Paddon may be the fans' favourite but he won't be having it all his own way. The Proton pair of PG Andersson and Alister McRae will be out to upset the Kiwi's apple cart.

Andersson won the S2000 class in Sweden and McRae has been rallying here for a number of years and knows the roads.

"While the SWRC is the main priority, one of the goals this year has been to pit ourselves against Sebastien Ogier, a WRC event winner who's driving a similar Skoda to ours this season while he waits for Volkswagen to rejoin the WRC next season," said Paddon.

"It's a blow that he isn't coming to New Zealand, as we are continually striving to show we do have what it takes to continue moving forward in the sport. Therefore we'll be putting ourselves up against some of the WRC competitors."

All the drivers who have raced here before love the fast, flowing and heavily cambered roads that go to make up the stages of the three-day rally. They all know, including Paddon and his co-driver John Kennard, they can go absolutely flat out knowing there's not a whopping great boulder around the next corner waiting to rip the suspension out.

"Each day of the rally is quite unique with some stages having mini stages [road conditions] within them.

"Day one just south of Raglan doesn't have a lot of camber but has varying grip levels. Day two north of Auckland is where the fun starts.

"They have the most camber and are the best roads in the world where you can get the car to jump from corner to corner. Any sliding and you lose a lot of speed,"said Paddon.

"We think day two is where, if things go right, we can make up a lot of ground and I know the stages well having won the International Rally of Whangarei twice on many of the roads we'll be using on Saturday."

Fighting words indeed and not without merit. Paddon is one of the growing talents of international rally and at just 25 is still, by his own admission, on a learning curve.

A good showing, and by that a win, at his home event will only increase his chances of another world title and even a seat in a car in the main game next year.

Points after three rounds:
Craig Breen 43
Hayden Paddon 37
Maciej Oleksowicz 26
PG Andersson 25
Pontus Tideman 15
Pedro Meireles 10
Yazeed Al Rajhi 10
Alister McRae 6