Hayden Paddon in control of Rally Otago at the end of day one
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Kiwi WRC star Hayden Paddon has made an unbeaten run through the fast gravel special stages of today’s New Zealand Rally Championship opener near Dunedin.
Paddon and co-driver John Kennard were fastest on all nine Rally of Otago special stages in their Hyundai i20 AP4 car to build an overnight lead of almost five minutes ahead of Sunday’s second leg.
Chasing Paddon, 2015 New Zealand champion Ben Hunt (Auckland) holds second place – he trails by 4min 44.5secs - having fought back up the order after suffering a 50secs time penalty for late arrival when his Subaru refused to start before the third stage.
It’s a tight battle for the final podium position with Rangiora’s Matt Summerfield (Mitsubishi Mirage AP4+, pictured below) 38.5secs behind Hunt and just 2.2secs ahead of Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour (Suzuki Swift).
The Otago event is Paddon’s first rally start since a fifth placed finish at WRC Rally Sweden in February.
"It’s been a good clean day and I’ve enjoyed it,’’ said Paddon.
"The stages are in really good condition. There’s a lot of gravel in some of them but some of the others are just like tarmac.
"We eased our way into it and tried to push a bit more as the day went on. I tried to push in Kuri Bush (stage seven on the Taieri Coast) but had a bit of a moment near the start and bent a wheel, so that put paid to that.’’
Paddon’s team has put a major summertime effort into further development of the locally built i20 AP4 car.
"The car is definitely handling well for sure. On fast stages like this it would be nice to have a bit more power but we make the most of what we’ve got,’’ he said.
Paddon plans to continue the hot pace tomorrow when the rally heads north towards Palmerston and Middlemarch for another eight special stages.
"It’s about getting into a good rhythm with my driving and there’s a few stage records still up for grabs as well, so that gives us a target for tomorrow.’’
It was an eventful day for many of the leading national championship competitors.
Te Aroha’s Graham Featherstone (Mitsubishi) runs in fifth place while Auckland’s Dylan Turner (Audi) is up to sixth after limping though the first stage with a turbo hose failure.
Christchurch’s Josh Marston is seventh in his Holden Barina AP4 after a steady run while team-mate Greg Murphy had been just outside the top-10 till stopping to change a rear puncture in stage seven. That has dropped him down the order to 19th position.
Timaru’s Darren Galbraith had run as high as second place earlier in the day but rolled his Mitsubishi out of fourth position on stage seven.
With visiting WRC star Mads Ostberg (Norway) out of contention with a broken axle in the first stage, the Otago Classic Rally is providing a local battle.
Kaikoura’s Regan Ross (Escort RS1800) leads from the Volkswagen Golf GTi of Deane Buist (Christchurch). With his Ford Escort RS1800 repaired, Ostberg returned to win three stages later in the day.