Mitsubishi driver Hayden Paddon overcame a final-day clutch problem to take his maiden Production Car World Rally Championship victory on Rally New Zealand.
Paddon has dominated the P-WRC class for the duration of the Auckland-based event, winning from Emma Gilmour by more than three minutes.
Gilmour’s Subaru was in the top two stage times through today’s action, centred on Raglan, south-west of Auckland, and fastest outright on the concluding test – a second run through Whaanga Coast.
Kingsley Thompson retired from the event on the final stage, but thanks to the Superally rules the Mitsubishi man will be classified third, ensuring a podium lock-out for the Kiwis.
But top New Zealander at home was undoubtedly Paddon. “It’s been a great event,” he said. “On the first morning, we were just playing ourselves in. The plan was to attack in the afternoon stages on Friday. But with the problems Richard [Mason] and Toshi [Arai] had, we didn’t really have to. For the last two and a half days, we’ve been able to drive without taking any major risks.”
Paddon added that the clutch problem which hit his Lancer Evo IX today had been an irritation more than a major issue. “It started to come last night,” said the 23-year-old. “The clutch wasn’t slipping or anything like that, we just started to lose the pedal. In the last couple of stages, I didn’t use the clutch at all. You can do that with this gearbox, but it took some time to get used to doing it.”
Paddon added that, after the drama which had unfolded at the front of the main field in Whaanga Coast, he was pleased he hadn’t had to push in the day’s long stage. “It’s so tricky in there,” he said. “It’s a great road, but it can be really tough.”
Second-placed Gilmour was pleased with her event, adding: “I’m the top female finisher, which is great. The car seemed a bit down on power. The boys made some changes to the car last night. It wasn’t so good this morning, but it felt better in the afternoon when there was a bit more grip around. This is a great result for the Kiwis.”
Behind the all-NZ top three, Subaru driver Arai made a great comeback to fourth place. “This is not such a bad result after our retirement on Friday,” said his co-driver Daniel Barritt. “We’ve pushed quite hard today and we’ve gone really well in the twisty sections. It’s just a shame we had those problems on the first day, otherwise it could have been a really good event. Hayden’s had it to himself a little bit this time.”
Arai passed Gianluca Linari, also in an Impreza, on the penultimate stage – both drivers also moving up one place further when Chaodong Liu stopped late in the day.