There was an element of disappointment about Rally New Zealand. Not in the spectacle it put on: the World Rally Championship had dearly missed its pilgrimage to the southern hemisphere. Not in the action the stages delivered: there was plenty.
Disappointment grew as the rally wore on. We’d been teased by a cracking first day of stages, only for the mileage to decrease rapidly as the itinerary wore on.
Why bring the WRC circus all this way for such a short event? Surely the organizers should have pushed the boat out further?
“Yeah, but they know that,” Hayden Paddon tells DirtFish. “So I’ll help them out a little bit as well.”
It’s no surprise Paddon wants to get stuck in. He’s the flag carrier for his nation. The cheers from spectators as Paddon’s i20 N Rally2 zoomed past were far louder than for any of the global superstars in the top-line Rally1 machines. And it’s Hyundai’s New Zealand importer that’s backed him through thick and thin. He and country have a symbiotic relationship.
Paddon wants Rally New Zealand to be bigger and better if it returns. The question is how much bigger and where it goes. He’s a team owner and manager, not just a driver: he knows fanciful dreaming is not productive. He’s focused on how the itinerary can be expanded while retaining some financial sensibility.
“It’s difficult because it’s commercial as well,” Paddon highlights. “It depends where the money comes from.
“At the moment there’s good support from Auckland, so because of that the rally has to stay in the Auckland region.”
He’s a pragmatist, yes. But he’s also an optimist. Putting an expanded route together than still takes in some of New Zealand’s best roads, while remaining true to the crushing realities of commercial viability, is doable. And Paddon’s already got a new itinerary sketched out.
“In my mind, the perfect scenario is what we had in 2012, where you go south on day one: so Raglan, Te Ākau stages. There’s a lot of other stages down there as well,” he says.
“And then day two you go north to south Whangarei which is the really nice cambered stuff. For me that’s the really, really nice stages. And then Sunday you have this with the Puhoi, Kaipara Hills stages.
“It makes it a big Sunday because you’re going from one side of Auckland to another, but a Sunday where traffic is better and things.
“You can make this a 400-kilometer rally very easily. But it depends on the commercial aspect. From a sporting side it’s easy to say ‘that’d be perfect’.
“The other downside to that is probably remote services on Friday and Saturday but if the teams come knowing there’s remote services, then it’s fine.”