Paddon and van Gisbergen top Whangarei entries

Entrants for the 2023 International Rally of Whangārei, being held 12-14 May, include Hayden Paddon and V8 Supercar champion Shane van Gisbergen.

A total of 48 teams have entered, in cars ranging from the latest international specification Rally 2 Hyundai 120N to a 1977 Mitsubishi Lancer. The rally covers 720km of the Northland region, using 18 special stages of closed road.

It is a qualifying round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), the final round of the Pacific Cup and second round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC).

Top seeded driver Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard return to New Zealand following a second placing at the weekend’s Rally Islas Canarias, a round of the FIA European Rally Championship (ERC). Paddon and Kennard lead the series after two rounds and now change focus to the Whangārei event the pair have won seven times.

“Whangarei always has some of the best stages in New Zealand, they’re really cambered and flowing like no other. I think we can expect our New Zealand-based Hyundai i20 N Rally 2 car to perform better on those stages compared to Otago, and hopefully everything we learned about the car in Otago and continued to develop since will help us to extract further performance gains,” said the 36-year-old.

It’s new territory for van Gisbergen, who’s last home event was the Repco Rally New Zealand: “It’ll be my first time on the Whangārei roads and from what I can see they have a bit of everything”, he said. Van Gisbergen will drive the Audi S1 AP4 specification car with Australian based co-driver Glen Weston.

“It looks like a fast but also technical rally. I’m looking forward to the challenge and seeing how we go. I’m in a different car this season, so we will be learning that and looking to improve each rally.”

Seven cars are offshore entries, including the Cusco Toyota C-HR of Michael Young. Others include Eugene Creugent and Pierre-Henri Brunet from New Caledonia, Julien Lenglet and Nelson Law from Vanuatu, Stewart Reid and Glen Alcorn from Australia.

A total of 11 teams have entered for the APRC category with 35 point-scoring for the NZRC. Others are entered in the Allcomers category.

Activity starts from 1pm Friday with shakedown testing at William Fraser Memorial Park’s Pohe Island. Drivers will then be at the Cameron St Mall from 4:45pm for a signing session ahead of the 5:30pm ceremonial start.

The competitive section begins Saturday morning with four special stage tests to the north of Whangārei. They return from 11:42am for a service stop before repeating the journey in the afternoon. The day concludes with a double run of the Pohe Island 1.15km spectator stage.

Sunday uses four road stage sections to the south – repeated after the 10:39am service break. The remaining teams return for the ceremonial finish at the Pūtahi Park – Town Basin, Whangārei, from 3pm. There is prize money of NZ$3,000 for the winning APRC entrant, $2,000 for second and $1,000 for third, provided by Indian businessman and promoter Vamcy Merla.

Spectator tickets start at $10 for the rural stages for the Saturday or Sunday, or $20 for the Pohe Island stage. Full ticketing information can be found on the website.