The recent 0800 Boxman Rally of Nelson gave the Paddon Direct Rally team many reasons to smile. They are now the New Zealand Rookie and Junior champions, won their first National round special stage, earned a Motorsport New Zealand 'B' seeding, and took honors as the first Mainland competitor home.
"It is a great feeling, and is made all the better after our bad run last season. It's the perfect way to repay everyone that helped us get back into a new car this year", driver Hayden Paddon said after the event.
The start of the 2006 season brought around a new car, and a new look team for the Paddon Direct rally team as they attacked the New Zealand Rally Championship, the first time since team manager Chris Paddon last competed in the series in 1996. The team were realistic right from the offset, knowing that the likely hood of stage wins and podium finishes was along way away, and therefore targeted the Rookie and Junior championships as their season goal.
"We knew right from the word go that it was going to be a difficult to even get close to the peak of the leader board, but we have surprised even ourselves on how quickly we have adapted to the car, new events and pace notes. From here on in, its only onwards and upwards."
Their 2006 season however hasn't been without drama. After taking maximum points on Leg 1 at Otago, a blown turbo and missing round 2 at Rotorua meant that the team lingered around the bottom of the table, and the chance of winning both titles looked very slim. Their comeback over the next 3 rounds though could be described as nothing less than spectacular, as they took maximum points in all 3 north island rounds. All three of these events were new to Hayden and the team.
"The north island rounds couldn't have gone any better for us. Top-3 stage times, and two top-5 overall finishes at Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa was a dream come true nearly, so it gives us a lot of confidence for next year."
"It was no means easy through, as we had a few mechanical issues with the car, and I made a couple of driving errors. Also the competition was so close, especially from fellow rookie Stewart Taylor who pushed us to the very last stage of the championships."
Back on familiar territory for the final round in Nelson, the team's goals were to wrap up the Rookie and Junior titles. Hayden along with co-driver John Kennard set a hot pace though, 2nd fastest through stage 2 and winning their first stage by being the fastest crew through the short stage 3, they headed to service in 3rd. Their hard work was undone through after a couple of moments on the repeat run dropped them 50 seconds back and into 4th for the day.
"We never really got the car dialed in for the conditions, and we really struggled with excessive under-steer and over-steer. Our morning pace was surprising especially as it didn't feel to good, except for the 3rd stage which was a totally different surface and the car felt a lot different and more driver friendly. Although we weren't taken any risks and driving our own rally, on the repeat stages we spun into a bank on stage 4 which cost us quite a bit, then hit a bank on the last stage. But we made it to the end which was the main thing."
Hayden described Leg 2's six special stages as being like a totally different event, as the roads were a lot faster and a different road surface. Two top 3 stage times on the opening two tests left the team in a strong 3rd heading to service.
"The morning stages felt good, and we just drove our own event conscious that we had to make it to the finish to claim the rookie and junior title."
"I then slightly cut a left hander on stage 8, and hidden in the gravel was a large rock. The impact bent the bottom arm and steering arm, which made the car very difficult to drive. We made it through that stage and two more before service, but we lost a lot of time, effectively ending our chance of a top-3 for the day."
After repairs the team blasted through the final stage, and wrapped up the 2006 New Zealand Junior and Rookie championships.
"It has been a great season for us, and this is the perfect way to finish it off. This result would not be possible without the great help and support we get from our sponsors and supporters, and the boys who have worked their butts off all year so that we could have a fast reliable package. I can not thank everyone enough!"
Now becoming the youngest New Zealand double rally champion, the question everyone is asking is how will they back it up next year?
"We will be back next year, bigger and faster and our goal is to score podium finishes and a top-3 championship position. There is a lot of work to be done in the off season to give us the best possible chance at this, but I think we have a very good chance at competing with the best next season without a doubt. Can't wait!"
But for now the team will be busy preparing for their local event, the Rally of South Canterbury on the 28th of October where they will be looking for a victory in front of their home crowd.
Hayden and the team would like to thank their loyal sponsors, Paddon Direct, Sitrex, Willett, FMG, PPG, BNT Automotive, Silverstone Tyres, Proflex, Timaru Signs, Glass Specialists, Fourpeaks Suzuki, ChemZ, Mitsubishi Motors, Pope Print, all the members of the Team Green Supporters Club, and everyone that supported the fundraising in conjunction with South Canterbury Car Club at the beginning of the year.