Production Car world championship ace Hayden Paddon expects his toughest fight yet on this weekend’s International Rally of Whangarei in his native New Zealand.
The Kiwi, currently joint top of the PWRC standings in his Subaru Impreza, has won the gravel event, a round of the Asia Pacific championship, on three previous occasions.
However, the inclusion of several star names on the bulging entry, including ex-WRC aces Chris Atkinson and Alister McRae, has forced Paddon to lower his expectations.
He said: “This will be the most competitive year here, with a lot of APRC teams plus our Kiwi competitors to consider,” said Paddon, 24. “The weather in July can also play a big part, but I’m feeling good and also feel we have made some more good improvements with the car.
“Straight after we got back from Argentina we did another test with our New Zealand car, focussing on specific areas that we struggled with in Argentina and at Rally New Zealand, particularly the rear suspension and geometry. Before each event we have made a good gain and we feel we have made another good gain with the testing we’ve done before Whangarei.”
As well as driving on the event, Paddon has prepared his older Mitsubishi Lancer for FIA WRC Academy driver Brendan Reeves. The Australian ranks the event as one of his favourites and got the opportunity to sample the car during a short test earlier this week.
“We did a 50-kilometre shakedown earlier this week to get a feel for the car for the first time,” said Reeves, a member of the Pirelli Star Driver training scheme. “It took a few runs to get the right feeling of the Evo as it had a lot more initial understeer than my Subaru, but after giving it a bit more of a sideways set up into the corner, it is now more suited to my driving style.”
International Rally of Whangarei on New Zealand’s North Island features 16 stages over a competitive distance of 301.9 kilometres. It gets underway on Saturday morning and finishes on Sunday afternoon.