New Zealand: Rallying's Great Stage

The FIA World Rally Championship was decided at the Repco Rally New Zealand in Auckland this weekend and the world saw our talent and passion for the sport.

Kiwi driver’s Hayden Paddon and Shane van Gisbergen proved New Zealand is capable of producing world class rally drivers, the duo claiming first and third in the WRC2 category respectively.

With a global audience averaging 80 million people per event and 850 million annually and growing, the WRC World Rally Championship is one of the world’s biggest sporting spectacles. And Kiwi talent was on show with Hayden Paddon and Shane van Gisbergen claiming first and third in the WRC2 category, showcasing to the world we are a nation producing driving talent on par with the best from Europe.

Rally New Zealand was warmly welcomed back to our shores for the first time in a decade, showcasing both our beautiful scenery, roads (considered by many drivers as the best rally roads in the world) and our talent.

Young gun, Kalle Rovanperä, who celebrated his 22nd Birthday in Auckland this weekend, became the youngest driver to claim the FIA World Rally Championship. The resulting exposure as rally audiences watch the Championship deciding round will be a welcome benefit for bringing the event back to New Zealand.

Rovanperä becomes the first Finn to win the world championship in two decades, and his win in Auckland, his fourth of the year, was one better place than his father Harri achieved in the 2002 Rally New Zealand.

“It’s quite a big relief after such a big season. My biggest thanks go to the team. They made this rocket this year a reliable and fast car, and even after some difficult rallies they always believed in us and keep giving us support,” said Rovanperä.

But at a domestic level the efforts of local heroes Hayden Paddon and Shane van Gisbergen are are equally impressive and the world will be taking notice. Hayden of course has proven himself capable in the main game of WRC and to rally fans around the world is well-known. Securing the win in WRC2 is a strong signal he remains one the best talents and the weekend may well reignite conversations for further WRC events.

The former PWRC world champion and a WRC winner in Argentina dominated WRC2 throughout the rally and in doing so finished a remarkable sixth place overall against the much more powerful and more advanced WRC1 cars.

Along the way, he cemented his sixth New Zealand Rally Championship over Giltrap Group sponsored, Ben Hunt, who contested the NZ Rally Championship in his new Škoda Fabia R5 for the first time this year.

Kiwi fans were out in droves, despite the wet weather to watch the other big local drawcard, van Gisbergen, who also drove exceptionally.

The Giltrap Group sponsored driver grew up watching his father in Rally, and considers just being able to contest a Rally of New Zealand a career highlight.

“This is not tough!” Said van Gisbergen following the rally. “I am driving a rally car in the World Rally Championship – it’s pretty cool,” said van Gisbergen. “Glen and I have had a great time. Thanks to our team, and our supporters. I am living my dream and so to get a podium then I am stoked. I have had a ball.”

SVG will have barely had time for the Podium finish to sink in before he flies out today for Bathurst where the current Supercars championship leader is by far the favourite heading into the great race.

Organisers are already involved in discussions to enable a more regular place for Rally New Zealand on the WRC calendar in the future. The event has brought in many millions of dollars of new money to the local economy and if the local crowds were any indication, is as popular as ever.

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