Roberts, who navigated Craig Breen to victory on the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo in January, died in a non-championship rally in Sicily last weekend. Although Breen and Roberts hadn't included Brother Rally New Zealand in their seven-round schedule, their absence will be keenly felt.
All eyes will be on local hero Hayden Paddon when the event does get underway on Friday morning. The New Zealander is a favourite for class victory in his Skoda Fabia S2000 and will be determined to capitalise on his stage knowledge, particularly on the northern tests on day two.
“For a change, it’s nice to be doing an event where I know the roads well,” said Paddon, 25. “Rally New Zealand is definitely one of my favourite events and nothing beats winning at home. Success in front of a home crowd is particularly special. A good result here would also help our efforts to raise the remaining funds for 2012.”
Of the drivers vying to beat Paddon, PROTON duo P-G Andersson and Alister McRae are the two most likely in their Satria-Neo S2000s. Andersson triumphed in Sweden, while McRae, the younger brother of rallying legend Colin, is a Rally New Zealand veteran.
“We are certainly chasing another SWRC win - it seems like a very long time since we were out on the last SWRC round, spraying the champagne on my home rally in February,” said Swede Andersson. “Of course, it is the winter in New Zealand, though, so this does mean that we could have some rain or some changing weather.”
Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi will also be one to watch on his New Zealand debut in his Ford Fiesta RRC after coming close to victory on the last SWRC round in Portugal. Like Al-Rajhi, Maciej Oleksowicz (pictured) will also be a New Zealand rookie when he takes part on the event in an S2000-specification Fiesta. The Pole’s confidence is high, however, after he scored a career-best second in Portugal.