Overall favourite to win the event has to be New Zealand’s only WRC driver Hayden Paddon. Driving an AP4+ Hyundai i20 Paddon comes fresh from a comprehensive win in the previous NZRC round, held last month in the South Island Otago Rally.
Assuming Paddon does race into an early lead, picking who will be next is the hard question.
Leading the APRC team’s is New Zealander Mike Young driving a 4WD Toyota Vitz (Yaris) built and run by Japan’s Cusco Racing, supported by Dunlop and TRD Japan. While Young does very little of his rallying in New Zealand, he’s no stranger to the fast Whangarei roads and he and co-driver Malcolm Read had a good pre-rally test.
Young’s team-mate for 2018 will be Yuya Sumiyama from Japan who will drive Cusco’s R5 Skoda Fabia a car that has won the Rally of Whangarei outright for the past two years. While Sumiyama’s experience of New Zealand roads is limited, he’s one of the most experienced drivers in the APRC, having won the Asia Cup in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
Japans’ Fuyuhiko Takahashi returns to the APRC for 2018, having competed with the Ahresty Rally team in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Known for his ability to bank solid results, Takahashi will drive a Group N Subaru WRX STI.
Picking the fastest drivers from the New Zealand Rally Championship is difficult and in fact starting one place after Paddon is Australian Nathan Quinn in a Ford Fiesta R5. Fresh from winning the 2017 Australian Rally Championship Quinn is no stranger to the APRC and the Whangarei roads plus he has one of the fastest and most proven cars in the field to drive.
Next up is Kiwi Ben Hunt who will have added confidence after a great result in Otago driving his Subaru WRX Sti. Following Hunt come any number of outright contenders including Matt Summerfield in a Mitsubishi Mirage, Dylan Turner in the Choice Performance built Audi S1 AP4 Quattro, Irishman Richie Dalton in a Ford Feista, Rhys Gardner in a Mazda 2 AP4+ and Josh Marston in a Holden Barina AP4+.
Green has more than 60 APRC event starts to his credit and was last seen in the series at the 2012 China Rally in Longyou where he claimed a podium finish.
Like Green, New Caledonian veteran Jean-Louis Leyraud’s APRC experience stretches back to the mid-90s, with the 1998 Rally of New Zealand. His last APRC event was the 2015 Rally Queensland in Australia, and although the Frenchman announced his retirement after that rally, he has been keeping his eye in with various events in New Caledonia.