Leading Aussie driver Brendan Reeves is the two-time defending Goldrush Rally Coromandel champion but he expects to have his work cut out for him trying to make it a three-peat.
Reeves will be second seed to World Rally Championship star Kiwi Hayden Paddon at today's one-day event based out of Whitianga.
Paddon has dominated the championship this season – winning three of the four rounds so far. The only rally he hasn't won was due to him missing the event while preparing for a WRC round.
Paddon and Reeves work together as part of the Hyundai World Rally Team and are good friends but they do enjoy a healthy rivalry with one another. Reeves got the better of the Kiwi this time last year. Paddon made an error in the wet and got stuck off the road, handing Reeves an unassailable lead for him to win his second straight Coromandel crown.
The trans-Tasman rivalry will be at the fore again this weekend but Reeves thinks things have changed a bit in the past 12 months.
"To win three in a row would be pretty awesome," he told The Herald. "But I am not setting the bar too high because I know how on it and fast Hayden has been this year.
"We didn't have things go our way in South Canterbury [where Paddon took a dominant win]. I was in New Zealand a couple of weeks ago doing a bit of work on the car and we will be pushing hard to try and put some pressure on him.
"I think we can be there or thereabouts. There was quite a big gap between Hayden and myself and then the rest of the field last year. The rest of the field in that 12 months have certainly narrowed that gap. Drivers like Emma Gilmour, Matt Summerfield and Ben Hunt have all been quicker this year. Then you throw in people like Raana Horan, who is new to the sport and is in an R5, so I don't think there will be such a gap this year."
Coromandel is notorious for its tight and twisty, highly cambered roads but Reeves' previous success at the event comes as a bit of a surprise at least to himself.
"I don't really know actually because predominantly I've always liked fast and flowing stages but I think a big benefit with the AP4 cars are the tight and twisty stages and the 1.6L cars have got quite light weight so it certainly benefits them on this rally.
"On South Canterbury they didn't have the grunt for the fast and flowing stages."
This will be the second event Reeves has entered in the New Zealand Rally Championship this season but he is working hard to put together a full campaign in 2019.
"We really want to do the 2019 championship," he said. "We haven't done a full championship in a rally series since 2014, when I did the ARC in the Mazda 2. It has been a few years since we have done consistent rallies in the same car so I would really love to get that opportunity.
"The way this car is performing and coming along from Force Motorsport and is showing good strength. We will just keep working hard and hopefully get a good result at Rally Coromandel and if we can do Rally Raglan as well we will have good notes and good preparation before the start of the season next year in Otago."