Victory in the NAC Insurance International Rally of Whangarei resulted in an array of successes for 22-year-old Hayden Paddon from Geraldine.
The current New Zealand rally champion battled with former local rally champion Richard Mason, from Masterton, for most of the weekend. The local pair held out three-time Asia Pacific champion Cody Crocker on the Whangarei and Kaipara district roads on the first day with Mason having the overnight lead.
Sunday started with Mason gradually extending his lead over Paddon who had to drive first on the heavily-gravelled roads and sweep a clearer line for following competitors. But with three-quarters of the event complete, Mason’s Subaru experienced a turbo failure which left Paddon perfectly positioned to secure a multi-faceted victory. Crocker finished the 280 kilometre event in second place, best of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship contenders. Young Australian Brendan Reeves was third with former APRC champion Katsuhiko Taguchi fourth. Emma Gilmour was the next best of the New Zealanders with fifth place overall, third in APRC and second in the New Zealand Rally Championship stakes.
Paddon’s rally win also earned him victory in the Pacific Cup, a section of the Asia Pacific series comprising three rounds in New Caledonia, Australia and Whangarei. It also takes him into the lead of the Vantage New Zealand Rally Championship ahead of Mason and maintains the lead he has in the Rally New Zealand Rising Stars International Award competition which is worth $50,000.
Perhaps most importantly, the Mitsubishi-driving Paddon has qualified to compete in the Pirelli Star Driver Asia Pacific final in Australia in September this year. Whichever young Asia Pacific driver wins this final will earn a fully-funded drive in six FIA World Rally Championship events in 2010 – a prize worth over $NZ1 million currently being enjoyed by another top New Zealand driver Mark Tapper.
“I can’t really complain,” said Paddon with a big grin. “It was a bit hard keeping pace with Richard [Mason] and being first on the road this morning was a bit of a challenge, so I now know how Cody [Crocker] feels. We had four targets and four bulls’ eyes, so can’t ask for anything better and to be the second-ever winner of Pacific Cup is also something special. It’s great to have an international championship on our CV and now our commitment is for the Pirelli Star Driver.”
Crocker said he was very, very happy with his result which keeps him at the top of APRC points’ table and on track for a record fourth APRC title.
“It’s fantastic,” said the Australian who drives for the Singapore-based Motor Image Subaru team. “We always expect the Kiwis to be very quick, which we put down to road position [Crocker’s number one seeding means he usually starts number one on the road]. We keep on complaining and now Hayden’s gone and proved our theory completely wrong! These roads are challenging but they’re quite good in that you can attack very, very hard – except when you’re car one on the road.”
Second among the APRC field, Taguchi holds second in the Asia Pacific series. “To finish second, it is very, very good. Also we’re very happy compared to last year our stage times improved a lot so this is a very good step-up for our team and our car,” said the experienced Japanese driver.
Hamilton-based Gilmour was also pleased with her result in her second event in the Motor Image Subaru as Crocker’s team-mate. “We really enjoyed driving this car this weekend. It’s at a really good level and we can only get better from there.”
The Asia Pacific Rally Championship continues on the island of Hokkaido in Japan on 11-12 July, then moves to Malaysia in August, Indonesia in October and China in November.
Spectator numbers were up, reported event chairman Willard Martin. “We’ve had fantastic support from the Whangarei and Kaipara district councils, our major sponsors NAC Insurance, and a huge number of local groups and supporters. The rally was competitive right down to the last stage, so all in all, a very successful, well-supported event.”
Overall results, NAC Insurance International Rally of Whangarei (provisional)
APRC – International Rally of Whangarei
1 C Crocker/B Atkinson, Subaru Impreza WRX STI
2 Taguchi/M Stacey, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, +46.4 seconds
3 E Gilmour/R Smyth, Subaru Impreza WRX STI, +1:03.3
4 B Green/F Pedersen/ Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, +14:02.1
APRC Points after round 3 of 7
1 Crocker (Australia), Subaru, 32
2 Taguchi (Japan), Mitsubishi, 23
3 Gilmour (New Zealand), Subaru, 16
4 Green (New Zealand), Mitsubishi, 9
5 Gill (India), Mitsubishi, 6
Outright – International Rally of Whangarei
1 H Paddon/J Kennard, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9
2 C Crocker/B Atkinson, Subaru Impreza WRX STI, +1:01.6
3 B Reeves/G Weston, Subaru Impreza WRX STI, +1:33.9
4 K Taguchi/M Stacey, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10, +1:48.0
5 E Gilmour/R Smyth, Subaru Impreza WRX STI, +2:04.9