Hayden Paddon dominates Rally of South Canterbury
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Hayden Paddon wasted no time reasserting his dominance of the New Zealand Rally Championship last weekend.
Paddon missed the third round in North Canterbury earlier this month while on WRC duty in Sardinia but he was back behind the wheel of his Hyundai i20 AP4 to take a commanding win at Timaru on Saturday.
The Rally of South Canterbury saw Paddon fastest on 10 of the 11 special stages — a stage three win by Ben Hunt in icy conditions was the first time Paddon has been beaten in an NZRC stage this year — but his pace and a rally of mixed fortunes for his rivals saw him complete 195km competitive distance with a winning margin of nearly five minutes.
Equally as convincing is Paddon’s lead in the championship. His margin of 33 points over Christchurch’s Josh Marston in the title race is more than the points on offer at the penultimate round at Coromandel in August.
Paddon said he enjoyed the South Canterbury roads, close to where he grew up in Geraldine.
‘‘This morning was obviously a bit sketchy with a lot of ice on the stages which made it very difficult,’’ said Paddon.
‘‘We’ve never seen icy, frosty conditions like this on a rally in New Zealand before. Running first on the road, we were the ones exploring where the grip was or wasn’t, so that was tricky.
‘‘Also, some of the morning stages had very long straights, and the AP4+ cars just don’t have that top speed, so we were mindful of looking after the engine of the Hyundai i20 AP4+. This afternoon, when it was a bit more flowing, it was really nice.
‘‘Ben [Hunt] and Matt Summerfield did a fantastic job today and it was a pity that neither of them got a result to back that up.’’
Greg Murphy races through the South Canterbury countryside before retiring his Holden Barina AP4 with a fuel pump problem. Photo / Euan Cameron
In many respects the South Canterbury Rally proved a typical example of the season. Paddon had the pace to dominate the rally but the size of his winning margin also reflected that none of his rivals had a completely untroubled event. His lead in the championship is also boosted by other drivers having mixed results.
For the first two rallies it was 2015 champion Hunt (Auckland) who positioned himself between Paddon and the rest of the field.
But when Paddon was absent from the Canterbury round, Hunt was unable to capitalise and was a first stage retirement in his Subaru WRX STI. He also suffered a lengthy delay at Timaru and finished last, narrowly missing exclusion through lateness. Along with a power stage runner-up bonus he salvaged 10 points from the weekend and runs third in the championship.
Rangiora’s Matt Summerfield (Mitsubishi Mirage AP4) performed strongly in an early battle with Hunt but repairing two holed turbo hoses cost him considerable time and he later retired from the rally.
It was 2017 champion Andrew Hawkeswood (Auckland) who finished second in his Mazda2 AP4. The defending champ was making his first appearance of the season and after some early braking issues he moved up the order.
But it was a bittersweet runner-up finish for Hawkeswood as it came at the expense of team-mate Brendan Reeves (Australia) who lost time — and second place — when his Mazda2 AP4 switched into limp mode for the final stage around Levels Raceway. Reeves fell down the order to finish eighth.
Australian driver Brendan Reeves looked set for a podium finish in one of the Foce Motorsport Mazda2 AP4s before he car switched into limp mode in the final stage. Photo / Wishart Motorsport Media
Third placed Richard Galbraith (Timaru) was another driver to score his first points of the season. With his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo8 repaired after rolling out of the Otago season opener, Galbraith was quick throughout the event and finished third.
Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour was back in point-scoring form at Timaru after her third round retirement. It was her third fourth-place finish of the year in her Suzuki Swift AP4 and she is sixth in the championship.
Australian rally champion Nathan Quinn made his third Kiwi start in a third different car, taking fifth place in the ex-Paddon and David Holder championship-winning Mitsubishi Lancer Evo8.
Canterbury winner Josh Marston (Holden Barina AP4) had to fight back after losing time with a holed turbo hose and he finished sixth while his team-mate Greg Murphy was sidelined by a fuel pump problem. Marston has moved up to second in the championship.
The eight-week gap till the penultimate round in Coromandel is a chance for drivers with an eye on second place to refocus their campaigns.
Unless Paddon has two bad events it’s difficult to see him being beaten to the national title. But with 30 points separating second through eighth place and a re-calculation of points to come after Coromandel — each driver will drop their worst event from the first five rounds to carry forward to the Raglan-based Rally New Zealand finale in October — the podium places remain wide open.
The Gold Rush Rally of Coromandel is on August 18 with another long gap before the Rally of New Zealand final round on October 13.
2018 New Zealand Rally Championship (after round 4 of 6):
1 Hayden Paddon (Wanaka) Hyundai i20 AP4, 118pts
2 Josh Marston (Christchurch) Holden Barina AP4, 85pts
3 Ben Hunt (Auckland) Subaru WRX STI, 80pts
4 Nathan Quinn (Australia) Ford Fiesta R5/Proto/Mitsubishi Lancer Evo8, 71pts
5 Matt Summerfield (Rangiora) Mitsubishi Mirage AP4, 64pts
6 Emma Gilmour (Dunedin) Suzuki Swift AP4, 62pts