P-WRC preview: Arai ready to make up ground in NZ
Aiming to make the most of the absence of his rivals
Former Production Car World Rally Champion Toshi Arai will be aiming to make the most of the absence of his rivals in New Zealand next week, when the fourth round of the Production Car World Rally Championship gets underway.
Armindo Araujo and Patrik Flodin, who have dominated the first three rounds of the series, remain at home and will not make the long trip south to the P-WRC round furthest from Europe.
For Arai, third in the standings, this represents a golden opportunity to narrow the 40-point gap between himself and leader Araujo. While Araujo and Flodin have contested all three P-WRC rounds run so far this year, Arai has only driven in Mexico, where he finished second to the Portuguese.
“I like New Zealand roads,” said Arai. “They are nice to drive on. It’s a good rally and we hope for a good run. It can be quite tough, though, some good drivers come from New Zealand for their home event.”
Arai won the Rally New Zealand Production round in 2007, but is right to be wary of a strong Kiwi contingent on the North Island event. Gianluca Linari and Miguel-Angel Baldoni are just behind Arai in the standings and they too will be hoping for a strong event to nudge them further up the P-WRC leaderboard.
The local heroes are led by current Pirelli Star Driver Hayden Paddon, winner of the New Zealand Rally Championship for the last two years. Paddon will swap his canary yellow Pirelli-backed Mitsubishi for his own Team Green Lancer Evo IX next week, when he aims to get his maiden P-WRC off to the best possible start.
“We’re doing some P-WRC rounds - here [New Zealand] and Japan - in our own car to give us a good shot at the title,” said Paddon. “This year is about gaining P-WRC experience, but in New Zealand we want to push harder as we obviously have some good experience there.”
Paddon will aim to exploit his knowledge of the NZ roads - particularly those to the north of Auckland around Whangarei on the opening day.
Richard Mason and Emma Gilmour are the wild card entries, with Mason’s Mitsubishi seeded at number 40 in deference to this being the 40th running of Rally New Zealand. Kinglsey Thompson is the fourth Kiwi P-WRC starter in a Lancer Evo X.
Paddon’s not the only Pirelli Star Driver in attendance as Nick Georgiou joins him in the thick of the P-WRC action, driving his own Lancer Evo IX. For Oman-born Georgiou next week’s sweeping gravel roads will provide a stark contrast to the Middle East stages he was brought up on. This will be his first taste of rallying in New Zealand.
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