Top kiwis in APRC line-up for International Rally of Whangarei

Top kiwi rally drivers Hayden Paddon and Emma Gilmour add a new dimension to the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) field of June’s NAC Insurance International Rally of Whangarei. Both Gilmour and Paddon have contested the Whangarei event for the last three years, but it’s the first time the pair will be entered as APRC competitors.

The two-day rally combines international, national and clubman’s fields with around 70 teams expected to tackle 280 kilometres of gravel special stages. The event is an official round of the APRC, the Vantage New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) and the Top Half Rally Series for clubman’s entrants.

Three-time APRC champion Australian Cody Cocker will be back to defend his title with the Singapore-based Motor Image Racing Team. Gilmour is Crocker’s new team-mate, both driving the latest model Subaru Impreza WRX rally cars which they tested recently in Malaysia.

Gilmour is the first female driver to contest the Asia Pacific series, which along with the Whangarei event has another six rallies in 2009 – New Caledonia, Queensland, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and China. The 29-year-old is originally from Dunedin but is now based in Hamilton, and has 19-year-old Tarryn Cox, from Rotorua, as her co-driver. “With Tarryn as co-driver we will be the first all-female crew in the APRC, a factor that’s important for the profile of the team. Tarryn and I are starting to gel as a combination in the car after testing in New Zealand. Testing the new car in Malaysia, it felt awesome and being able to compare my times against Cody’s at the test has been both helpful and encouraging. Cody’s experience in the Asia Pacific series is going to be of huge value.”

Geraldine-based Paddon is the current New Zealand rally champion, and won the International Rally of Whangarei in 2007 and finished a very strong second in 2008. “We’ve had a good run there in the past couple of years so we’ll go there with the same state of mind – to win the event – which will be the best outcome for both championships,” says Paddon. “It will be a different ball-game running further up the starting order amongst the APRC competitors who can have the disadvantage of sweeping any areas of thick gravel. In that respect, it is a bit of an unknown. “I’d like to think we can beat Cody on level terms; that’s definitely the goal. In recent years when we have been on repeat stages where the road conditions have been similar for everyone, we have been able to hold our own against him.”

The youngest-ever winner of an APRC round, Paddon will use his left-hand-drive Mitsubishi Lancer EVO9 for the New Zealand series, including Whangarei. His older right-hand-drive Lancer EVO8 will travel to the other APRC rallies, where he actually competes for two titles – the Pacific Cup comprising the first three APRC rounds as well as the full seven round Asia Pacific championship. “I guess our car choice reflects how we are going to attack the events,” says Paddon. “The EVO9 is a superior, better-developed car but, in saying that, a lot of the competition are in the same type of EVO9 car.”

With the APRC one of five regional rally series around the world which act as feeders to the World Rally Championship, seeing young drivers like Gilmour and Paddon putting together programmes to compete at this level is very encouraging for New Zealand rallying, says Willard Martin, NAC Insurance International Rally of Whangarei chairman. “You look at the fact ‘Possum’ Bourne won the ARPC three times and used it as a springboard to his drive in the Production World Rally Championship (P-WRC), and Malaysian driver Karamjit Singh won the APRC before going on to win the P-WRC. “The drivers get more experience on roads and events outside New Zealand, on different styles of terrain and at a new level of competition.”

Entries in the APRC are still coming in prior to the series’ first event in New Caledonia on 9 and 10 April, but long-time APRC campaigner Brian Green, from Palmerston North, is expected to enter with a Mitsubishi while New Caledonian veteran Jean-Louis Leyraud is planning to run a Possum Bourne Motor Sport-prepared Subaru. The APRC normally attracts drivers from Japan, Indonesia, India and Malaysia to add to the New Zealand and Australian entrants.

The NAC Insurance International Rally of Whangarei features the very best of New Zealand and international regional talent and spectators have a variety of locations from which to enjoy the two days of competition. The rally route takes in many roads in the Kaipara and Whangarei districts previously used in earlier Rally New Zealand World Rally Championship events. Based at Whangarei’s Quayside Town Basin, the event also includes two runs of the NAC Insurance Pohe Island super special stage very close to the city centre. Long-time rally sponsor Hella New Zealand will again feature on the iconic Hella Bridge.

Officials advise that rally regulations are now available on the website, as are other official documents such as Rally Guide 1 and entry forms for all international, national and clubman’s competitors.

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