The fourth round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship will be held this weekend (July 16 and 17) at Whangarei, the northernmost city in New Zealand which will also host the rugby World Cup in September.

This sports crazy town goes gaga over the rally every year. The Rally of Whangarei, running for the fifth time, has traditionally been dominated by drivers from New Zealand. Hayden Paddon, who won last year, would be keen to register a record fourth victory this time.

“This will be the most competitive year here, with a lot of APRC teams plus our Kiwi competitors to consider,” said the 24-year-old Paddon, a winner in 2007, 2009 and 2010.

“The weather in July can also play a big part, but I'm feeling good. I also feel that we have made some more good improvements with the car,” he added.

Paddon would be the man to beat for Team MRF, which has two entries — India's Gaurav Gill (co-driver Glenn Macneal of New Zealand) and Japan's Katsuhiko Taguchi (co-driver Mark Stacey of Australia).

Fresh start

Team MRF would like to erase the memories of its previous round in New Caledonia. Gill came unstuck on stage 11 with a high-speed crash that badly damaged his Mitsubishi EVO X and put him out for the rest of the day. However, he restarted on day 2 and picked up bonus points as the fastest driver of the day.

On the first stage of the second morning, the fourth-placed Taguchi landed heavily after a huge jump, smashing the oil cooler of his car and forcing him to retire.

Gill, with 60 points, shares the second spot with Scotsman Alister McRae. Chris Atkinson of Proton Motorsports, with 70 points, is leading the pack.

A thrilling battle is in the offing in this year's rally. Let's hope that the weather does its bit and makes it even more challenging and exciting.

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