Sublime Paddon takes eighth Otago Rally title

Two punctures were not enough to prevent former WRC driver Hayden Paddon from upping his Winmax Brakes Otago Rally trophy tally to eight. 

Looking at the final margin ahead of his nearest rival in the New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) it’s hard to imagine Paddon and co-driver John Kennard had to replace two tyres on the Hyundai i20 AP4, as they crossed the finish line 7mins:32.9secs ahead of Christchurch’s Josh Marston.

Paddon said although it cost him his preferred clean sweep of the 298km rally’s 14 stages and put paid to the attempt to break his own record in the final Kuri Bush stage, it was enjoyable to be back rallying again with Kennard.

“We clicked like an old glove. John did an awesome job and everything went well as per normal.”

Marston likened himself on Saturday evening to “a computer that needed a reset overnight.” After his reboot, Marston drove his Holden Barina AP4 hard all day to move up from seventh and set second and third fastest stage times throughout Sunday’s seven stages.  

“We are there at the end. A few of the other guys broke down and crashed, which is part of rallying and we will take it. Second is realistically the best we could think of with Hayden, who always wins,” he said.

Marston commended his Gore co-driver Andrew Graves for his efforts.

“He’s a good boy and he does a bloody good job. I just have to watch when he tries to steal the steering wheel,” Marston said, referring to Graves’ notable driving talent.

Paddon podium

Third place in 2mins:04secs behind Marston was a pleasant surprise for Kaikoura driver Regan Ross, in what was his first NZRC outing in his Ford Fiesta R5. He had Palmerston North’s Katrina Renshaw calling his pace notes and said he had a good run through the last stage, no damage to the car and it had run faultlessly.

The M-Sport-built Fiesta from the United Kingdom was quite different to Ross’ usual charger a two-wheel-drive Ford Escort. Although he vowed to be back in his Escort one day, Ross admitted he had always been curious to see what it was like to drive a top-level rally car.

Todd Bawden and co-driver Paul Burborough, both of Hamilton, proved that consistency and being there at the end of the rally counts for everything, achieving an impressive fourth place in a Mitsubishi Evo 6. The top five was rounded out by Rangiora sibling team Matt and Nicole Summerfield (Mitsubishi Mirage AP4).

The attrition rate yesterday was unusually high, with less than half the 114 entries recording finish times for all 14 stages. Among the fallen were many of the frontrunners from Saturday, including promising youngster Robbie Stokes (Ford Fiesta AP4). He was one of the first to drop out - after a surprise third placing following Saturday’s seven stages, Waiuku’s Stokes and his co-driving sister Amy ground to a halt with a mechanical issue early yesterday. (SUNDAY)

Next to falter was Auckland’s Dylan Turner who crashed his Audi AP4 300m into Table Hill SS11 dropping out of second place.

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Paddon’s puncture in that same stage allowed Subaru WRX STi driver Ben Hunt to claim the quickest time through the 28.28km test. Then in the following stage Hunt’s good fortune deserted him and he retired for the day with a mechanical failure. 

Andy Martin, of Tauranga, with co-driver Matt Hayward, won the Allcomers section of the rally in a Subaru Impreza and also finished eighth overall.

The top Otago driver, after Cromwell-based Paddon, was unfortunately not Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour, who had flashes of brilliance including four, top three stage times before her Suzuki Swift AP4 succumbed to mechanical failures both days. That honour went instead to Duncan McCrostie, of Bannockburn, making a return to rallying after a 10-year break.

He leased a Mazda 2 AP4 car and was encouraged enough by his 11th placing overall in the Otago event to enter it in next month’s second NZRC round the International Rally of Whangarei.

Christchurch duo Dylan Thomson and Amy Hudson were the first-placed NZRC 2WD championship drivers in a Ford Fiesta ST150.

BUIST BESTS AYSON IN CLASSIC ENCOUNTER

Derek Ayson and Deane Buist battled tooth-and-nail for Otago Classic Rally honours over the course of the weekend, with Buist finally emerging victorious after some see-saw action on Sunday morning.

A three-time winner of the classic event, Ayson dominated Saturday’s action, winning six of the seven stages in his Nissan-powered Ford Escort MkII. However Buist, driving a Volkswagen Golf GTI, made Ayson work hard all day, winning the day’s longest stage, and ending the opening leg just 21.8 secs behind his rival.

Living up to predictions that Sunday’s opening forestry stages would suit his car better than Saturday’s more open public road tests, Buist snatched the lead at the start of leg two. A solid win on the demanding 39km opening stage propelled him into the classic rally lead by just 0.1 sec, and a further victory on the next stage down Waipori Gorge saw him extend the lead to 6.5 secs.

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However, the Canterbury driver then clipped a bank and damaged his steering on the very next stage, allowing Ayson back ahead. Two stages later it was Ayson’s turn to strike trouble; the South Otago driver punctured, losing over four and half minutes, and with it any chance of a fourth classic rally win.

Buist duly romped to classic victory and outright seventh overall (and first two-wheel-drive finisher), adding to an Otago victory tally that also included a classic win in 2007, and outright victory way back in 1992. 

Ayson, meantime, had to settle for third place in the classics behind fellow Escort driver Jeff Judd (Christchurch) whose only major problem over the weekend was the loss of power steering on Saturday’s opening stages.

Fellow Cantabrian John Silcock (Mazda RX-7) and Cambridge driver Anthony Jones (Escort) completed the classic rally top-five, ahead of Balclutha’s Craig Barclay (Escort), who was the first Otago-based classic driver home.

Amongst the fancied seeds who didn’t make it to the end, Graham Ferguson (Greymouth, Ford Escort) was sidelined by gearbox problems on the Sunday after running strongly inside the top-five.

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Special guest driver Aaron Slight also failed to complete the event, slipping off the road midway through Sunday. Even so, the former world superbikes ace impressed on his rallying debut. 

After a self-confessed cautious start on Saturday’s opening stage, Slight progressively lifted his pace in the Rossendale Ford Escort RS, setting a top-ten classic time on the Anzac Avenue super-special stage. At the time of his exit, the Masterton-based driver had improved from 25th in the classic rally after the opening stage to 16th.

Avalon Biddle also adapted well on her move from two-wheeled competition on the track to rallying, finishing 6th in the Classic 4WD division and 47th overall in the event. It was rare to see her without a big smile on her face as the event progressed.

“You have to experience rallying first-hand to understand how different and challenging it is compared to the motor sport I am used to,” said Biddle, who has won motorcycle racing titles in Europe and Australia, as well as here in New Zealand. “For sure if the chance came up to rally again, I would take it.” 

Class wins in the classics went to Whitianga’s Miles McElwain (Toyota Corolla) in the 1301-1600cc category, and Christchurch’s Kerry Sloan (Toyota Starlet) in the 0-1300cc class.

Stories: Catherine Pattison, David Thomson

Photos: Becky Ladbrook, Geoff Ridder