The APRC Pacific Cup kicks off from Otago Rally

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117 crews are registered for the first APRC event in New Zealand. Local star and reigning champion Hayden Paddon will not take part to the race because he’s in Hungary to fight for ERC title

The APRC Pacific Cup and the New Zealand Rally Championship will start from the beautiful and fast gravel roads of Dunedin. There will be 117 crews competing on a timed route of 274.97 kilometers divided into 16 special stages.

Among the entrants, the absence of local idol and champion Hayden Paddon stands out, as he is competing this weekend in Hungary for the first round of the European Rally Championship. The absence of the reigning European champion opens up interesting scenarios for the fight for the final victory, with several crews vying for the top spot until the last special stage. Among the possible contenders are Indian driver Gaurav Gill, competing with a Hyundai i20 Rally2, and locals Ben Hunt (Skoda Fabia Rally2 Evo), Rubiera Stokes (Ford Fiesta AP4), and “lady” Emma Gilmour, competing with a Citroën C3 Rally2.

There are eight drivers registered for the Pacific Cup section of the APRC, five of which will also be in the running for first-up honours in the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC). With the top three placegetters from last year, Paddon, Raana Horan and Josh Marston, all not competing this year, it may give local driver Emma Gilmour her best chance of winning her home event.

Among the entrants is also British driver Kris Meeke paired with Irish co-driver Noel O’Sullivan, competing with a Ford Escort RS 1800 MKII. The former Citroën driver will compete in the CC category and will have to face a large group of contenders, a total of 28. The peculiarity of the New Zealand rally is the combination of modern and historic cars under one event, a format often used in various European rallies.

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Audi Quattro S1 works replica

The 4WD Classic event is now stronger than ever with top-seed Andrew Graves the hot favourite in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 3. A big challenge is expected by current American Rally Champion, Brandon Semenuk, who will be the crowd favourite in his Subaru H6, but he won’t have it all his own way with third seed Christchurch’s Tim Smith also Subaru mounted. A little further down the field, Steve Cox’s magnificent Audi Quattro S1 works replica is certain to keep spectators entertained.

There are 20 international teams from nine countries in this year’s event, with many of those contesting the Otago International Classic Rally for two-wheel drive cars. Former winner Marcus van Klink will be back behind the wheel of this Group B replica Mazda for the first time in some years, while regular NZRC front-runner, Ari Pettigrew, may be a dark horse in a 2.4-litre Nissan-powered Escort. Aussie hot shots Tristan Carrigan and Richie Dalton are also in the top 10 in rented Escorts and are likely to keep the local stars honest, while Central Machine Hire owner, Allan Dippie, returns in his pretty Porsche 911 RS.