It is with sadness Rally New Zealand acknowledges the death of motorsport icon Ken Block, aged 55 in a snowmobile accident.
Block’s relationship with Rallying in New Zealand was a special one, his first foray into rallying outside of North America saw he and Alex Gelsomino contest four rounds of the 2007 New Zealand Rally Championship.
He would continue to return, in total contesting Rally New Zealand and International Rally of Whangarei three times each, as well as two attempts at the Otago Rally up to his most recent visit in 2019. Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts prevented his return to Repco Rally New Zealand for 2022.
Block would consistently refer to New Zealand’s heavily cambered gravel roads as the best in the world to his millions of fans through social media across the globe.
Rally New Zealand chairman Paul Mallard recalls many fond memories of working with Block and his team, and his infectious enthusiasm for competing in New Zealand.
“To hear of Ken’s passing has come as a real shock. Ken was someone who has done so much for the sport we love globally, but also someone who has done plenty to enhance the reputation of rallying in New Zealand,” Mallard said.
“He was also someone who was a genuine pleasure to have compete in our events, a truly likeable personality with an infectious enthusiasm for life as well as rallying and someone the world is certainly poorer without.
“The whole team at Rally New Zealand offer their sincere condolences to the Block family and team at this horrible time, sentiments I’m sure are echoed right throughout the New Zealand Rallying Community.”
New Zealand’s famous Otago Rally is the first rally in the Southern Hemisphere to be confirmed as part of the new TER World Series.
A series aimed at iconic events in iconic locations, it is an evolution of the TER Series run in Europe for the past few seasons, and 2023 will be a concept season for the worldwide variant.
The Otago Rally is a longstanding event in the New Zealand Rally Championship, and it is expected to be joined in the TER series by five other countries.
For the Otago Rally, in particular, the event will be broadcast globally focussing not only on the competition, but on the region’s tourism, landscape and, of course, the stunning rally roads that Dunedin and surrounds offer.
“For many years we've been working to build the profile of the event, and along with the Kiwi competitors, have hugely enjoyed being hosts to the international competitors and spectators,” event spokesperson Roger Oakley explained.
“To join the TER World Series is exciting, and to increase the worldwide profile for our region and the Otago Rally is fantastic. Being part of a series that promotes the love of the sport is what we are all about.”
Each event in the trial season of the TER World Series will receive significant television coverage in the form of a 25-minute highlights package which is to be beamed around the world.
A European-based TV crew will be in Dunedin for the event and will showcase all the region has to offer.
Amidst the announcement of the event’s inclusion in the TER World Series, event organisers are nearing 100 ‘intentions to enter’.
Of that list, 18 are internationals who are looking forward to competing in the event, with visitors from Australia, Finland, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, Italy and Japan all ready to converge on Dunedin in late March.
TER World Series ambassador, Hayden Paddon, can’t wait to welcome the competitors to his home country and to share the Kiwi event and culture.
“The Otago Rally is one of my favourite events. The Dunedin and Otago region is perfect for rallying: great roads, great landscapes and a really passionate team of organisers,” he said.
“I’ve always been impressed by the support of the City of Dunedin and the way the community gets behind the rally. I can't wait to be there again, and meet all the competitors.”
The 2023 Otago Rally will begin with the popular ceremonial start in Dunedin’s Octagon on Friday, March 31st, before the rally action itself takes place on the following two days (April 1 and 2).
Six years after he was initially scheduled to compete at the ENEOS Otago International Classic Rally, Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen will finally suit up for the world-famous rally next April.
Hirvonen was set to compete in the 2016 and 2020 events, but due to a late schedule conflict and COVID-19, his desire to compete on the Dunedin roads could not be fulfilled.
In 2023, though, the time has come for the 15-time World Rally Championship round winner to get behind the wheel for the April 1-2 event.
“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to come to Dunedin. Being able to compete at the Otago Rally is something I’ve had on my list for a while now, and until now, we’ve failed to make it happen,” the Finn explained. “It will be great to get to grips with the famous Ford Escort RS1800 that so many have driven and to experience all that the event has to offer.”
Hirvonen has competed on seven occasions in New Zealand, with four podiums to his name at Rally New Zealand, mainly behind the wheel of a Ford Focus World Rally Car.
He has never ventured onto the South Island to compete, though, and it’s something he’s looking forward to given the history of the event.
“I’ve seen plenty of videos from the rally and the roads are amazing, and I’m looking forward to getting down there. I am excited to also visit this beautiful area and mixing with the local competitors.”
“For sure, I will be aiming to win, but I’ll be making the most of the experience and having fun at the same time!”
The flying Finn competed with Ford for the majority of his WRC career, but also had stints with Citroen, Subaru and Skoda.
For event organisers, the chance to have yet another international rally star on the entry list is great reward for their hard work through the COVID-19 pandemic and restarts what has been a long-standing tradition of the event.
“It will be great to have a world-class international back on our beautiful Otago roads,” event spokesperson Roger Oakley said.
“Mikko’s entry is a welcome one, and we’re glad we can finally welcome him to Dunedin.
“The fans that gather in the Otago region for the rally will get to witness a world-class driver and a man who is popular the world over.
"There have been almost 100 teams that have already registered their interest in the event, so we're looking forward to another large field competing."
The Otago Rally has a history of attracting WRC stars to the event, including World Champions Bjorn Waldegard, Hannu Mikkola, Juha Kankkunen, Ari Vatanen, Miki Biasion and Didier Auriol, while legends such as Michele Mouton and father and son, Jimmy and Alister McRae, have also competed in the event.
Most recently, the likes of Markko Martin and Mads Ostberg have won the famed Otago International Classic Rally.
The 2023 Otago Rally will be held from March 31 to April 2 next year.
For more information on the Otago Rally, visit the event website at www.otagorally.com
The new five-round 2023 Winmax Brake Pads North Island Rally Series announced this week will be aimed at club and regional level rally crews and will fill a gap in the competition ladder that has existed for several years.
Series coordinator Marty Roestenburg says the series is aimed at the lower and middle levels of cost and time commitments for both rally competitors and organisers.
“The northern and central region rallysprint series continue to be very successful as an entry level to rallying and there are well established NZ Rally Championship (NZRC) events in the North Island,” says Roestenburg.
“What has been missing in recent years has been the regional level of competition that had been provided by the former Top Half Rally Series and the Central Region Rally Series. The support shown for the Mainland Rally Championship in the South Island has encouraged us to create something similar for North Island crews.
“We’ve got keen and talented rally competitors who want to progress from what the rallysprint events are offering. However, the step up in the cost and time demands of an NZRC campaign is beyond the resources for many of these competitors.
“The Winmax Brake Pads NIRS will provide exciting competition on a variety of road surfaces. And we will look to recognise the best young and rookie competitors, the best of our master’s competitors and the leading co-drivers.
“We’ve already had commitments for help with sponsorship, administration and generating media coverage. There is an experienced team behind this initiative, and I am confident the series will be successful.”
Roestenburg believes a successful North Island rally series is critical for the sport.
“We are not only looking to encourage the next generation of drivers and co-drivers. It’s about creating the platform that will bring the next generation of rally organisers, administrators and marshals into the sport.”
The series has a three-year plan to restore clubmans and regional rally competition to the North Island.
“Our objective for the first year is to have five rounds which are successful for the competitors, and also the clubs which partner with the series to organise those events,” Roestenburg says.
“We will listen to the feedback from clubs and competitors and then move the NIRS in the direction which has the strongest support for years two and three.”
The 2023 Winmax Brake Pads NIRS will start with one of the most popular rallysprint events on the calendar – the Pukekohe Car Club’s Bothwell Loop event near Te Akau on Sunday March 19.
Round two is the Rally of the Far North based at Paihia on Saturday May 27 followed by the long awaited return of the Taranaki Tarmac Rally on Saturday June 24.
Another venue returning to the rally scene will be the Maramarua Forest Rally set for Saturday September 23 with the series finale being the Hamilton Car Club Waitomo Rally on Sunday October 29.
“Our calendar gives competitors a taste of everything – classic gravel public roads, the best tarmac stages in New Zealand and some fast forest roads,” Roestenburg says.
Further variety in the competition will be provided by a mixture of events contested with, and without safety notes.
Kiwi rally star Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard are the 2022 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Champions, having secured the title at the winner-takes-all APRC final at the Coffs Coast Rally in northern New South Wales over the weekend of 25 to 27 November.
In winning the APRC title in his three-time New Zealand Rally Championship winning Hyundai i20 AP4, Paddon follows in the footsteps of his rally hero and fellow Kiwi Possum Bourne who won the ARPC title three times between 1993 and 2000.
The New Zealanders were up against five Australian crews in the APRC category in the Coffs Coast Rally which was also the final of the Australian Rally Championship.
Other Kiwi drivers qualified for the APRC final, but Paddon Rallysport were the only ones to commit to shipping their car to Australia.
The rally ran on similar roads to those used during earlier World Rally Championship events in the region with Paddon describing the conditions as rough, dusty and tougher than previously.
It wasn’t an easy win for Paddon and his all-Kiwi crew with the Hyundai i20 AP4’s performance hampered by a blown turbo hose and driveshaft issues during Saturday’s eight stages.
By the end of stage three where the turbo hose blew, Paddon held a 20.8 second lead over Australian Harry Bates. Then stage four was cancelled due to an incident with a back runner when the same road was used for stages two and four.
This saw the field head back for the midday service. Thanks to a big effort from the whole team, the Hyundai’s turbo hose was repaired.
Then a front axle broke in the fifth stage, but after roadside running repairs they were 3 minutes late into the next time control point, incurring a 30 second penalty. Three stages remained so they pushed on in three-wheel-drive. Overall, it was a fine effort from Paddon and Kennard to end the day still 2.3 seconds in the rally lead over the stages, but with the 30 second Penalty only 27.7 seconds down on Bates.
Describing their situation as being somewhat on the back foot, Paddon went into Sunday’s six special stages determined to fight back. And fight back he did, winning five stages and taking the lead back from Harry Bates by the 11th stage.
Bates then crashed out on the next stage, giving Paddon a little space to take care of the car over the remaining bumpy stages to ensure they made it to the finish. In the end, Paddon and Kennard finished with a margin of over four minutes to second-placed Lewis Bates and secured their first FIA APRC Rally Championship title.
Paddon says: “It was a big commitment for the team to take the car to Coffs Harbour. We had one goal, to win the championship and it’s great to have achieved that after a very trying and rewarding rally. It was a big team effort that wasn’t without its challenges, but in the spirit of rallying, we dug deep.
“The APRC Rally Championship has so much history and with Possum Bourne winning it several times, it’s an honour to have our names on the same silverware.
“We have had some good successes in the past here at Coffs Harbour, and it’s a rally we have enjoyed. The stages, most of which were in a different configuration to earlier events, were particularly tough this year with rough and dusty conditions.
“This presented us with several challenges such as turbo hose and driveshaft problems on the first day. While making repairs, we also had a time penalty for lateness, so it certainly put us on the back foot going into second day. So, we dug deep and were able to make good ground to get back in the hunt while enjoying some close battles with Harry Bates and third-placed Nathan Quinn.
“All in all, it was a massive team effort from our guys, so this one’s for them.”
Paddon and Hyundai New Zealand Rally appreciate the support of Hyundai New Zealand, Mitre 10 Trade, Z Energy, Makita, Bailey Caravans, Ben Nevis Station, Winmax Brakes, Gravity Internet, Pak N’ Save, Bars Bugs, Pirelli, OMP/Racer Products, Mike Greer Homes, Bartercard, Accessman, Sign It Signs, Carters Tyre Service, ETCO, MITO and Provident Insurance.
Hayden Paddon is aiming to add another major victory to his collection this weekend when he contests the Grand Final of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship.
He and co-driver, John Kennard, have shipped their Hyundai New Zealand-backed i20 AP4 to Australia for the Coffs Coast Rally after another dominant season.
Paddon has already won the New Zealand Rally Championship this year, and took a convincing victory in the WRC2 category at Rally New Zealand.
Now, he’s hoping to add his name to the illustrious list of APRC winners that includes Possum Bourne, Ross Dunkerton, Carlos Sainz, Kenneth Eriksson, Cody Crocker and Alister McRae.
Disappointingly though, only six drivers will contest the final on the New South Wales coast, with Paddon the only non-Australian.
No other New Zealand drivers took up MotorSport New Zealand’s assistance package to head to the final, meaning that Paddon’s competition will come from Australian brothers Harry and Lewis Bates in their factory Toyota GR Yaris AP4s.
The Bates’ have their own battles to fight, however, with the Australian title up for grabs in Coffs Harbour as well.
That won’t phase Paddon who has a good record on the roads that were used for Rally Australia from 2011 to 2018.
“We’ve got a lot of good history there. The last couple of times we were on the podium in the WRC and it was a rally we always enjoyed,” he said.
“While it’s a different format this year it will be equally enjoyable.
“We will be starting first on the road so will have to adapt to the conditions – as the weather can change it quickly. We’ve seen how it can turn to mud or if it’s dry, be very dusty.”
The other drivers in with a chance of winning the APRC are Richie Dalton (Toyota Yaris AP4), WRC regular Luke Anear (Ford Fiesta Rally2) and Daniel Gonzalez (Skoda Fabia R5).
Harry Bates needs to win the ARC component of the rally, win the final Power Stage and hope that his brother, Lewis, finishes lower than second.
If Lewis finishes the rally lower than second overall, Harry, the 2019 champion, will need to be at the top of the field to take his second Australian title this weekend.
It won’t be easy.
The older Bates had a strong lead in the series midway through the year, but retirements due to mechanical problems on the past two rallies have put him well behind the eight ball.
Lewis won both those rallies and needs to bring his car home in Coffs Harbour in a strong position to take what would be an unexpected championship win.
“After Tassie I was hoping to have ARC wrapped up by now, but if anything I’ve learned a very good lesson, don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” Harry Bates said. “Now, the objective is pretty basic when you’re the hunter rather than the hunted – drive flat out.”
Family harmony will need to be put aside for 14 stages this weekend when the brothers put on the gloves and battle it out like never before.
One would imagine that their father Neal – a four-time Australian champion himself – is already wishing it was Sunday afternoon!
May the best Bates win.