Before his gearbox seized soon after the start of Special Stage 2, Hayden Paddon had been matching the pace set by NZ champion Richard Mason.
August 31, 2007, 5pm. There was no warning, no smell of overheated, no nothing.
Suddenly the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8 was jammed in gear and sledging straight ahead, heading for a fence.
It slid to a halt without doing any damage, but Hayden Paddon’s Leg 1 rally was over, and with it his lead in the 2007 Vantage Aluminium Joinery NZ Rally Championship.
Paddon’s first-ever Rally of NZ had started well. He was 18th overall on the first special stage despite making a slow start as he adjusted to new-found grip in the Evo 8.
Co-driver John Kennard had had to give Paddon a metaphorical “dig in the ribs” to put on more pace.
“We haven’t been used to this level of grip all season.”
Paddon responded and over the final split-timing points of the test, the green Lancer was on the same second as production class stage-winner Toshi Arai, and Paddon’s NZ title rival, reigning champion Richard Mason.
He’d been on similar pace in the first seven kilometres of SS2, even slightly edging Mason, and then he went for a gear in a sequence of corners and the gearbox jammed.
“We stopped before we went through the fence,” said Kennard.
They rocked the car back and forth, Hayden hooked first gear and let out the clutch. There was a bang and a “big noise,” and they decided to park the car rather than wreck the gearbox.
“If a tooth comes off, there’s not much clearance and it can get jammed and split the casing,” Kennard said.
Paddon will start tomorrow’s second leg, but his nominated spare gearbox is a standard unit which will be a handicap in some of the tight stages where with the dog box he can slam the gears through instantly.
“It won’t make it easy,” Kennard said.
But he said they had been pleased with the Lancer’s grip.
“It’s nice to have that much. Even if (the road) was slippery there was still quite good grip.”
And he’ll be encouraging Paddon to make the most of that grip on tomorrow’s special stages.
“With the good split times he was setting, he still wasn’t stretched. A couple of times today I told him to push harder and get on with it.”
Story by Mike Stock at Mystery Creek.