Crocker takes maximum points from Whangarei

Kiwi drivers Chris West and Hayden Paddon earned bragging rights over top-rated Australian and Japanese drivers competing in this weekend’s NAC Insurance Hella International Rally of Whangarei by finishing first and second ahead of defending Asia Pacific champion Cody Crocker.

West dominated the event, winning ten of the 15 competitive stages outright with Paddon in hot pursuit, while Crocker focused on earning maximum points towards the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), a series he’s won for the last two years.

Crocker, driving the Motor Image Subaru, says he needs to take points where he can. “With Canberra and New Zealand being our strongest events, we had to maximise the opportunity here,” said the Possum Bourne protégé. “The only thing better would be to win the event outright, but given we’re clearing the gravel for the Kiwis, I think they get to do a tarmac rally and we’re the ones doing a true gravel rally!”

The Whangarei event included classes for APRC, the Pacific Cup which comprised the first three APRC rounds, the New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) and a separate class for Clubmans competitors, and ran over two days on roads south of Whangarei and in the Kaipara District.

The Pacific Cup is a new FIA initiative this year, the intention being that creating two separate competitions – the Pacific and Asia Cups – within the seven-round APRC will encourage more entrants at more events. Australian Dean Herridge, running a Cusco-backed Subaru, is the inaugural winner of the Pacific Cup and is now talking to team owners about the possibility of running further APRC rounds.

West’s overall event win also gave him maximum points’ haul towards the NZRC, but with former New Zealand champion Richard Mason out of the event after rolling his Subaru during Saturday’s early stages, Paddon benefited the most in terms of overall championship standings, moving up to lead the series ahead of West, with Mason demoted to third.

West was delighted with his result – the first time he’s won an internationally-rated rally. “It’s fantastic! It’s a good result for the whole Andrew Simms Mitsubishi rally team; credit and payback for all the hard work. Personally, it’s a good boost of confidence and that’s what we wanted,” said the former NZRC champion.

Paddon, a 21-year-old from Geraldine and last year’s Rally Whangarei outright winner, earned a new honour in New Zealand rallying over the weekend in his distinctive green Paddon Direct Mitsubishi. Rally Whangarei was the very first qualifying event for the Asia Pacific leg of the new global Pirelli star driver competition and Paddon scored maximum Pirelli points in 13 of the 15 stages. Paddon, Mark Tapper, Andre Meier, Sloan Cox, Kirsty Nelson, Patrick Malley, Ben Jagger, Australian Brendon Reeves and late entrant Brad Ayling contested the Pirelli competition which awards the eventual winner with the opportunity to compete in six rounds of the 2009 World Rally Championship.

The two entrants who earned the most points in Whangarei – Paddon and Ayling – earned €5000 (NZ$9600) towards the cost of competing in Pirelli star driver Asia Pacific finale, Rally Malaysia, in October. The Asia Pacific competitors next head to Japan for Rally Hokkaido in July. “We’re going to have to pull everything out of the bag to win against Taguchi in Japan!” says Crocker. “If we could win three of these APRC titles in a row, that would be fantastic.”

NAC Insurance Hella International Rally of Whangarei Overall classification (provisional)
1, Chris West / Garry Cowan, (total time) 2:36.36 #
2, Hayden Paddon / John Kennard, 2:36.54 #
3, Cody Crocker / Ben Atkinson, 2:38.18 *
4, Dean Sumner / Paul Fallon 2:39.12 #
5, Brett Martin / Grant Marra, 2:39.20 #
6, Katsuhiko Taguchi / Mark Stacey, 2:40.25 *
7, Callum McInnes / David Calder, 2:41.20 #
8, Scott Pedder / Glen Weston, 2:41.20 *
9, Dean Herridge / Chris Murphy, 2:43.10 *
10, Hiroshi Yanagisawa / Yoshimasa Nakahara, 2:43.29 *
* Asia Pacific Rally Championship registered drivers
# New Zealand Rally Championship registered drivers

Asia Pacific Rally Championship classification (provisional)
1, Cody Crocker / Ben Atkinson, 2:38.18
2, Katsuhiko Taguchi / Mark Stacey, 2:40.25
3, Scott Pedder / Glen Weston, 2:41.20
4, Dean Herridge / Chris Murphy, 2:43.10
5, Hiroshi Yanagisawa / Yoshimasa Nakahara, 2:43.29

2008 FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship for Drivers After three of seven rounds
1, Cody Crocker (Australia) 32
2, Katsuhiko Taguchi (Japan) 30
3, Dean Herridge (Australia) 26
4, Brian Green (New Zealand) 13
5, Scott Pedder (Australia) 12