Australian Cody Crocker leads the Whangarei Rally after Leg 1, and South Canterbury driver Hayden Paddon wins the NZ Championship section .
May 12, 2007, 11.30pm. Hayden Paddon (Lancer Evo 8) may be a newcomer to top-level New Zealand rallying but today he did something may of his more experienced rivals have yet to do – win a leg of a New Zealand championship rally.
In winning the Vantage Aluminium Joinery section of today’s first leg of the Whangarei Rally, the 20-year-old from Geraldine in South Canterbury, became the youngest driver ever to win at NZ championship level.
He also scored Mitsubishi’s first win of the 2007 series.
Asia-Pacific champion Cody Crocker leads the rally overall, though his margin over Paddon is a relatively slender 12.2 seconds, and the Australian Subaru Impreza WRX STi driver holds a commanding lead in the Asia-Pacific section of the event.
He’d had to play second fiddle until Special Stage 7, when early leader Dean Sumner’s Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 succumbed to damage caused when the Rotorua driver hit a bridge on his way to winning the preceding stage.
Sumner had been fast out of the blocks this morning and built a solid lead during the opening stages, carrying that lead into the early afternoon.
There was surprise from some observers at Sumner’s speed. They’d been blind-sided by his less than spectacular start to the series in Otago a month ago.
But Sumner had been battling a bad dose of the flu in Otago and had a turbocharger fail on Leg 1. His equalling national champion Richard Mason on the opening stage of Leg 2 in Otago should have alerted pundits to Sumner’s potential pace.
Sumner wasn’t the only one in difficulties today.
Otago winner and reigning champion Mason (WRX STi) didn’t finish either after making two disastrous tyre choices. He opted for hard compound Silverstone tyres in the morning to counter the notoriously abrasive Northland roads, and struggled with a lack of grip.
The man who is almost certainly New Zealand’s fastest rally driver languished in fifth place during the morning.
For the afternoon he went for a softer compound and effectively suffered a tyre meltdown. He came out of SS7 with the right front wheel running on the rim. He’d driven on it like that for 10 kilometres, and the brake line was also severed.
By the time he and co-driver Sara Randall had changed the wheel and Richard had blocked off the brakeline, they were facing a mad dash to Whangarei for the final stage, the super special around Pohe Island.
They calculated they’d need to run at an average of 85km/h – and that included a section of Whangarei City running – and they set out to try to do that.
But it was soon clear that with three worn-out and delaminating tyres on the BNT Subaru they couldn’t make it without severely damaging the Impreza’s running gear. Reluctantly, Mason called it a day.
Emma Gilmour’s day – which had included an unsettling spin during the morning’s bracket of stages – ended when she punctured in SS7.
Also out was Mitsubishi fastman Brett Martin who was sidelined by a left-rear suspension failure.
Sam Murray, who had survived a brush with the scenery on SS7 completed the day third overall and second in the NZ championship section in his Subaru Impreza: tomorrow’s (Sunday) fight for the national series round win will be between Murray and Paddon.
Third in the NZ section was Dylan Turner (Lancer Evo 9) who overcame a confidence-sapping lack of effective brakes during the morning.
Behind him came Nathan Thomas who put in a solid day’s rallying in his new-for-this-season Lancer Evo 7. Thomas says he’s getting to grips with the car which is more powerful and faster than anything he’s rallied before.
Next up was Stewart Taylor (Evo 9) who said he’d lacked confidence during the day; that lack of confidence to push hard had left him uncharacteristically shy of the pace.
Eighth in the overall standings behind Taylor – and leading the Rally Xtreme section – was Glen Inkster (Evo 6.5) after an excellent drive.
Kayne Barrie led the Fiesta Trophy section.
He’d had the Ford at the head of the front-wheel drive class after the morning’s set of four stages, and was seven seconds up on Mark Tapper (who had been troubled by a suspension strut coming loose in his Fiesta) going into SS5, the first afternoon gravel test just outside the Paparoa township.
But Tapper – arguably the fastest current driver apart from Mason – flew in that test, beating Barrie by a staggering 33 seconds and taking over the class lead.
However, Tapper stopped in SS7 with a mechanical problem and was out of the rally.
Dave Strong bounced back in the afternoon stages to take the Kiwi 2 front-wheel drive lead in his Honda Civic Type R.
Andrew Keighley (Honda CRX del Sol) had led the class in the morning when Strong was struggling with a lack of grip on the Silverstone tyres fitted to his Civic. He switched to medium compound Dunlops in the afternoon.
He finished the day one place and 10 seconds behind Grant Liston (Honda Civic Type R) who isn’t running in Kiwi 2.
Liston had also struggled with a lack of grip from his Silverstones during the morning tests and had switched to his last Falken tyres for the afternoon stages.
Hayden Paddon said this evening that his challenge now was to go out tomorrow and do the same.
His day had been by no means easy. About 10km into SS2 this morning he’d collided with a pheasant which “spidered” his windscreen, making it almost impossible to see the apex of left-hand corners.
As the day wore on he had become accustomed to peering through the damaged windscreen and was scarcely noticing it.
That aside, it had been “a good day: the car is really working well, and there’s a lot left in the tank.
“Sure we were helped by other people’s misfortunes; but that’s rallies. (Bad luck) can happen to anyone.”
– By Mike Stock.
Photo captions: Whangarei Rally leader Cody Crock in his Subaru, MacSpeed/Rally NZ photo; NZ championship section winner Hayden Paddon flies high, Euan Cameron/Rally NZ photo.
* Our plans to bring updates during the day were foiled by a lack of wireless Internet coverage in the lower Northland region - Mike Stock.