Australian driver Chris Atkinson leads the International Rally of Whangarei by just 6.2 seconds from Kiwi star Hayden Paddon with Atkinson’s Proton team-mate Alister McRae in third, 32.8 seconds adrift of the Subaru-driving Paddon.
After several days of heavy rain across Northland, competitors faced increasingly slippery conditions during the first day of the two-day combined Asia Pacific Rally Championship and New Zealand Rally Championship event. Showers eased throughout the morning, but the second run through the repeated loop of four stages between Whangarei in the north and island Waipu Coves to the south saw clay being dragged to the surface of the hard-packed gravel roads.
Atkinson’s overall and APRC category lead means the former Subaru World Rally Championship driver will start the second day as first car on the road with Paddon running behind him.
Paddon, from Geraldine, started the day by setting the quickest times in the first two stages, but the three-time Whangarei winner ended stage two with “a big, big moment. We pretty much had most of the car off the road and all the front suspension arms were bent. We made some roadside repairs, but the suspension arm broke so we had to tour through half the third stage before we could fix it.”
Paddon’s 29.6s advantage turned into a 14.5s deficit to the hard-charging Atkinson, while Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour finished the morning well positioned in third place overall. An intermittent miss in her Subaru’s engine meant she dropped to fifth overall by day’s end.
Atkinson was pleased to get into the lead during the morning stages, despite a small electrical issue that briefly turned the car’s engine off. “We had a good morning, with the last two stages being pretty good, so we’re happy to be in the lead.”
During the afternoon Atkinson commented further that, with the wet road conditions, it was an advantage to be running further up on the road. “We played it a bit safe and used a harder tyre than everyone else. It’s been tricky this afternoon with the rain; it’s made it a bit more muddy and we tried our best but Hayden’s getting closer so it’s going be a tough day tomorrow.”
Paddon finished the day, saying: “We’re within five or six seconds of Chris now, so we’ll try get that back tomorrow.”
McRae and co-driver Bill Hayes had an issue with their intercom for half the long stage [SS4, Bull]. “So we dropped a bit of time there, but I think we’re second APRC and third in the rally, so it’s not such a bad place for having a couple of small problems.”
Current NZRC leader Richard Mason made the most of the opportunity to earn points for both his national rally campaign and the SouEast Motor Kumho Team for which he’s driving for APRC team points. Mason and co-driving wife Sara, from Masterton, started the day conservatively in the Mitsubishi they’ve borrowed from the Chinese team.
“The second loop of stages was good. In Brooks and Bulls [SS1 and 3], we took time out of our morning stages which not many people did so we were very happy with that as we learned more about the car,” said Mason. “Cassidy [SS3] was really slippery actually and it’s not the time to be brave in a new car so I was reasonably cautious through there. Overnight we’ll change just a few clicks on the car here and there.”
The top ten overall at the end of day one comprised Christchurch’s Chris West, Indian driver Gaurav Gill, Kerikeri’s Kingsley Thompson, Australian Brendan Reeves who’s driving Paddon’s championship-winning Mitsubishi, and Japanese driver and defending APRC champion Katsu Taguchi.
Other action included APRC wildcard and NZRC contender Sloan Cox, from Rotorua, getting stuck off the road in stage six. The former junior New Zealand rally champion will restart on Sunday. New Caledonian Jean-Louis Leyraud marks his 15th international event in New Zealand, finishing the first day in 15th position.
Saturday’s itinerary comprised eight stages and 158.96 competitive kilometres, including the popular central Whangarei Pohe Island super special stage. The International Rally of Whangarei continues on Sunday with a further 142.94 kilometres of competitive action across eight special stages south of Whangarei inland of Waipu Caves.
More information can be found on the event website www.rallywhangarei.co.nz with detailed results and championship points available from www.chrissport.co.nz.
2011 International Rally of Whangarei
Provisional results after day one – top ten
Pos, No., Driver/Co-Driver, Vehicle, Country, Time
1, 2, Chris Atkinson/Stephane Prevot, Proton Satria Neo S2000, AUS, 1:37:55.2
2, 24, Hayden Paddon/John Kennard, Subaru STi, NZ, +6.2
3, 4, Alister McRae/Bill Hayes, Proton Satria Neo S2000, GBR, +39.0
4, 6, Richard Mason/Sara Mason, Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X, NZ, +57.5
5, 7, Emma Gilmour/Ben Atkinson, Subaru STi, NZ, +1:23.2
6, 25, Chris West/Erin Kyle, Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX, NZ, +1:37.1
7, 3, Gaurav Gill/Glenn Macneall, Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X, IND, +1:38.0
8, 28, Kingsley Thompson/John Allen, Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X, NZ, +2:24.3
9, 5, Brendan Reeves/Rhianon Smyth, Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX, AUS, +2:31.9
10, 1, Katsuhiko Taguchi/Mark Stacey, Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X, JPN, +4:44.3
PHOTOS: Marcel Stawiczny and APRCtv