The pair led through the two days to take victory, despite the final day’s extremely wet conditions.
Paddon, in a Mitsubishi EVO IX, established a margin of three minutes, 55 seconds over second-placed Kiwi Emma Gilmour with her Australian co-driver Ben Atkinson. Paddon also won 13 of the event’s 16 competitive stages and set five new stage records.
The rally counts towards both the Asia Pacific and New Zealand rally championships and Paddon was registered for points in both series – the Asia Pacific one courtesy of being allocated a wildcard entry. The 23-year-old from Geraldine added to his weekend’s haul of honours by also collecting maximum possible points in both championships.
Third was the first of the international drivers, Australian Brendon Reeves with his co-driving sister Rhianon Smyth, the pair finishing 27.8 seconds behind Gilmour. A margin of just 0.5 seconds between Reeves and fourth placegetters Alister McRae and Bill Hayes in the Proton highlighted the closeness of their battle throughout Sunday’s sodden stages. Rotorua’s Dean Sumner and Paul Fallon rounded out the top five places and held on to their New Zealand Rally Championship lead by two points from Gilmour.
Paddon and Kennard, two-time New Zealand rally champions, also won this rally in 2007 and 2009 but ranked this one as the best. “This one we did on our own from stage one. Some stages today I’ve pushed harder than I ever have before, and it all felt really comfortable and easy,” said an elated Paddon.
The Subaru-driving Gilmour acknowledged Paddon’s dominant win: “Hayden was a real class act out front; all that experience he is gaining on the WRC stage really shows,” says Gilmour. “My approach was not to worry too much about what he was doing, and to keep a clear focus on securing [a New Zealand rally] championship placing that would give us the best possible haul of points.”
Reeves also finished third in this highly-regarded Whangarei-based event in 2009 and was delighted to secure a podium position again this year. “We were quite a bit off Hayden’s pace so it was good to have someone to benchmark your times on and have a race to the finish.”
McRae, an experienced World Rally Championship competitor, said the main thing was to secure a result for Proton in the Asia Pacific series. “We managed to do that and the good thing about New Zealand even in the wet, the roads hold up. It’s been very busy for us over the past three months – the team hasn’t had the time to work on and develop the engine. We’ve had a few problems but we’ve got to the end here – that gives them a level base to go from. Hopefully we can be more competitive and push a bit harder at Queensland [the next Asia Pacific Rally Championship round],” said McRae who took second place in the Asia Pacific series.
More Kiwis completed the top ten leader-board with Patrick Malley, Richard Mason, Kingsley Thompson, Matt Jansen and Sloan Cox also in the overall rankings. Former International Rally of Whangarei winner Chris West had been holding a strong fifth position right up until the very last stage, but suffered two punctures which left the former local rally champion unable to finish.
Among the other notable international competitors, Chris Atkinson in the second Proton experienced mechanical issues on both days and was unable to finish despite a brief highlight of winning the first Sunday morning stage. Top seed Japanese driver Katsu Taguchi had a wretched rally in the MRF Tyres Mitsubishi, limping through the first day and, with repairs, was able to finish 16th and still hold the APRC series lead. Taguchi’s team-mate Gaurav Gill had a very strong run on Saturday holding second place overnight. Gearbox problems saw the Indian driver drop through the field to finish one place behind Taguchi.
Provisional results – Overall top ten
1, Hayden Paddon (Geraldine)/John Kennard, Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX
2, Emma Gilmour (Hamilton)/Ben Atkinson, Subaru Impreza WRX STI (+3:55.3)
3, Brendan Reeves (Australia)/Rhianon Smyth, Subaru Impreza WRX STI (+27.8)