23 Sep
23 September 2023

Motorsport legends to rev up Daybreaker Rally's return after decade-long absence

Motorsport royalty will be sliding around dusty rural roads this weekend during the return of a rallying favourite.

Supercars and Nascar champ Shave van Gisbergen and rally legend Hayden Paddon headline the Daybreaker across 150 kilometres of Manawatū and Rangitīkei.

After van Gisbergen's success in his first foray into Nascar this year, winning his maiden start, the 34-year-old's off stateside full-time following this year's Supercars Championship, where he lies in second place.

But this weekend he is in Manawatū, where the Daybreaker Rally marks a return after a decade's absence.

Relatively new to rallying, van Gisbergen spent the morning on reconnaissance.

"It was okay - just looking around and learning. We're taking notes and studying them," he said.

"I started last year. I did three or four [rallies] last year and this my second one this year. I haven't done too much, but learning as I go.

"Dad was a rally driver. I did speedway, quad bikes and the racing."

This year's nine stages begin about 6.30am on Saturday before finishing at Manfeild, Feilding, mid afternoon.

"I used to read about it," van Gisbergen said. "It used to start in the middle of the night, hence the name, and through the days. Early start Saturday, but no night stages, thankfully."

Asked what his expectation for the weekend was, he said: "None, just have fun."

He is likely to have more fun in America, too, if he emulates his Nascar debut win.

"It should be pretty cool to try something different. I've done Supercars for a long time now, 15-plus years, so I'll go to America and try that out, try Nascar and hopefully it's good."

Hayden Paddon, 36, is the race favourite and he is in pole position to win the New Zealand Rally Championship, to add to his European title this year, on his debut Daybreaker start.

"[It's my] first time experiencing these stages - quite different to anything I've done before. There's a lot of gravel, a lot of loose gravel, so there's a lot of sweeping to be done, and very demanding stages, very long and twisty.

"It's not going to be an easy day."

Rally cars can go up to 200 kmh, but they are really made for cornering. And Paddon said driving was a team effort.

"I've got the steering wheel and the pedals to control the car, but how I control the car is dictated by the pace notes that the co-driver's calling," he said.

"Before the rally we get out and do the reconnaissance, where we describe our own shorthand description of the road. I read to John [Kennard] in this case, he writes it down, and then during the rally he's reading it back at the correct timing.

"That shorthand description helps me picture the road ahead because it's impossible to remember all the stages, all the corners.

"It's not like a race track. We've got a 42km stage here that's got probably 1000 corners, so you just can't remember all those."

The other 90-odd drivers, including a few from overseas, are welcoming the high-flying list of starters.

Anthony Jones, who was blowing out some cobwebs after not racing much lately, said it was good to see them in Manawatū.

But seeing could be a concern.

"The dust is shocking at the moment. It's unbelievable," he said.

"Maybe we're going to get some rain by the sounds of it, but if we don't get any rain, and with the minute by minute [starting] intervals, there's going to be hanging dust. It's not the nicest to drive in those conditions."

Self-preservation kicked in, he said.

"You don't want to throw yourself off the road because there's some huge drops out there. You're a long way to the bottom... [I'm] relying on the co-driver quite a lot."

Organiser Tony McConachy said if all went well this year racing in the dark could return.

"It used to start at midnight. It's quite difficult in this day and age to make that happen, but we want to dip our toe in the water and make this event run really really well.

"If we can start in the dark next year, that's our goal. We're just putting the feelers out to the driver to start thinking and planning about that."

McConachy said the stages were held on an "absolutely sensational" mix of roads.