Video: New Zealanders Hayden Paddon and John Kennard have become the first Kiwis to win the Rally of New Zealand in 30 years
Paddon dominated the event from the outset, winning six of eight of the first day’s stages and setting a new stage record and winning two more stages on the final day. He and Kennard won the event by a considerable margin - 2 minutes, 26.8 seconds.
The event, while not a World Rally Championship event, attracted a very strong field of competitors registered for the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship battling for the Rally New Zealand trophy on both days on roads through the Franklin , North Waikato and Raglan districts.
Paddon was the favourite to win this weekend’s rally and the two-time New Zealand rally champion drove with both composure and pace from start to finish.
“It’s been a great weekend and it’s pretty cool to know that my name’s going to be engraved on the trophy beside names like Colin McRae. He was always one of my heroes, so that makes this a very special victory,” said Paddon.
“It’s always fantastic to win and it’s a huge credit to our team who have been working really hard with this new car. It is great to see that all our work is taking us in the right direction with this Group N Subaru, which will be a major benefit with the Symtech-built Subaru we run in the Production World Rally Championship with our next round being in Argentina at the end of this month.”
While Paddon’s pace was clear from the outset, fellow competitors enjoyed an intense and, at times, heart-breaking tussle for the other podium positions. Masterton’s husband-and-wife team of Richard and Sara Mason were chased hard by Dunedin ’s engaged couple Emma Gilmour and Glenn Macneall, with the Subaru driver duos swapping places, mostly in the top five, through the event’s 14 competitive stages. Double rally champion Mason exerted additional pressure on day two to extend a final margin of 1 min, 13.4 sec over Gilmour.
Mason took two stage wins on his way to second place, both on the Whaanga Coast . “We were happy to win those stages, but our times weren’t as good as they have been on other WRC events. Overall we’ve got a little more to do to match Hayden’s pace, but we were thinking of the championship first as Hayden will miss two of the rounds. Now we think we have stepped ahead of the other guys in the championship and that’s the main thing.”
Also in the mix for the top three spots earlier on were defending champion Dean Sumner of Rotorua and former champion Chris West of Christchurch. Sumner put in two top five stage times early on Sunday, but slid off the road just short of the finish on the first run through Whaanga Coast and his rally was over. West again faced cruel luck when a mechanical failure occurred just outside the gates to Hampton Downs Motorsport Park as he was heading for the final stage of the event, a high speed run around the tarmac circuit. West’s demise bought ever-steady competitor and series sponsor Brian Green, of Palmerston North, into fourth place.
Fifth place overall went to Kaiapoi’s Brian Stokes piloting a classic Ford Escort RS1800. The former rally champion also won the Rally New Zealand Historic Rally title. Behind Stokes was another Kaiapoi and historic class competitor Marcus Van Klink who topped the points-table for the New Zealand Historic Challenge Trophy in his Mazda RX7.
Seventh overall and top Group N two-wheel-drive competitor was Nelson’s Ben Hunt. The former Rally New Zealand Rising Stars Scholarship winner heads the 2WD points-table after winning this class in Otago.
“It’s been a fantastic event,” said 23-year-old Hunt. “I love these roads and we’re been pushing pretty hard so it’s great to have finished so well.”
The top ten places were rounded out by Matt Van Tuinen from Queensland, Sloan Cox from Rotorua, who battled punctures and clutch issues to hold on to the finish and Josh Marston from Christchurch, who holds second on the 2WD leader-board.
The Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship continues at Rally Wairarapa on 28 and 29 May. Rally New Zealand will next run in 2012 as a World Rally Championship event with the date still to be confirmed.
Rally New Zealand : Provisional overall results
Position, Driver/Co-driver, Driver’s Hometown, Car, Total time/Margin to leader