Hayden Paddon untouchable in Otago
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Setting the fastest time on every stage and racing clear to a winning margin of almost eight-and-a-half minutes, Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon grabbed all the headlines at the New Zealand Rally Championship opening round in Otago at weekend.
Though the spotlight mainly fell on Paddon’s significant stage-winning margins and dominant victory, there was plenty of other interest and story lines from the first big weekend of domestic rallying.
Make that the biggest weekend of the season, as the Otago event has become the showcase for Kiwi rallying. Its community support, capacity field including international crews, spectator turnout and the challenging stages clustered within not much more than a one-hour drive from Dunedin is a formula refined over 20 years into a world-class event.
Take Paddon out of the equation and the pace wasn’t set by one of the new generation AP4 cars but by 2015 New Zealand champion Ben Hunt (Auckland) with his production-based Subaru WRX STI.
Bigger and heavier than the AP4 machines, the Subaru remains competitive and Hunt has a committed and efficient driving style that exploits the Subaru strengths.
He was second quickest on 11 of the weekend’s 17 stages and despite a troubled run early on Saturday — including a 50s penalty for late arrival at a time control when the car refused to start — he was 2m 27s clear of Matt Summerfield.
Summerfield (Rangiora) had a frustrating rally trying to build confidence with the Mitsubishi Mirage AP4.
That will come for the 2017 championship runner-up and the points he banked in Otago for third place could prove important later in the year.
Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour was initially a little wary of her Suzuki Swift AP4 car under braking but her speed built throughout the rally. She was comfortably in third place until a puncture and a lengthy tyre change in some tricky terrain dropped her down the order.
Timaru driver Richard Galbraith ran as high as second place on Saturday before he rolled his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo8.
The two-car Holden Barina AP4 effort also showed potential with Josh Marston (Christchurch) completing the first day in seventh and moving up with some strong stage times to finish fourth.
And there’s promise as well in Greg Murphy’s rallying efforts behind the wheel of the second Barina. The highlights of Murphy’s run were back-to-back fourth fastest stage times on Sunday morning before a fuel pressure issue ended his rally.
Another driver to make an impression was Aucklander Raana Horan. A champion in offroad racing where he’s campaigned a fearsome Nissan Titan Thunder Truck, Horan drove his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9 up through the field from 31st seeding to finish sixth overall.
For the Otago crowds, the car that fired the most gravel and howled through the stages was the 20B triple rotor Mazda RX-8 powered sideways to ninth overall by Marcus van Klink (Christchurch).
Kaikoura’s Regan Ross led home the Otago Classic Rally field and was the only Ford Escort driver on a podium that delivered some diversity to the classic results.
Christchurch driver Deane Buist evoked memories of Swede Kenneth Eriksson’s mid-1980s Rally of New Zealand efforts in his 1984 model Volkswagen Golf GTi.
Soundly engineered, well-driven and a significantly lower budget exercise than an authentic Ford Escort RS1800, the Golf is a cool and quick addition to the Classic Rally ranks.
Buist was runner-up in the Classic Rally and 10th overall with Rangiora’s John Silcock completing the Classic Rally podium with his Mazda RX7.
Round two of the NZ Rally Championship is the International Rally of Whangarei running May 5-6 before the series heads south again for single-day events based in Christchurch (June 3) and Timaru (June 23).
2018 NZ Rally Championship Round 1 of 6
1 Hayden Paddon (Wanaka) Hyundai i20 AP4 44 points
2 Ben Hunt (Auckland) Subaru WRX STI 36 points
3 Matt Summerfield (Rangiora) Mitsubishi Mirage AP4 28 points
4 Graham Featherstone (Te Aroha) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo7 22 points
5 Josh Marston (Christchurch) Holden Barina AP4 21 points
6= Emma Gilmour (Dunedin) Suzuki Swift AP4 17 points
6= Raana Horan (Auckland) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9e 17 points