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Hayden Paddon leads the Vantage Aluminium Joinery New Zealand Rally Championship field after the first day of action at the Hella International Rally of Whangarei.

Currently second overall in the event behind Australian Cody Crocker, Paddon (Lancer EVO 9) holds a 26.4sec lead over next placed Kiwi Sam Murray (Subaru Impreza) at this weekend’s second round of the series.

Covering eight stages to the south of Whangarei, the day dawned following light overnight showers – a theme that intermittently punctuated the autumnal Northland skies.

On the pace from the outset, Paddon set third fastest time in the second test despite having a bird fly up and in to the windscreen of his car. With obscured vision on the left-hand side of the screen he resolved to work past the issue and have it replaced overnight.

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It was an excellent day obviously,” said Paddon. “We weren’t expecting this leading up to the event and are benefiting from others misfortunes, but it’s about finishing. We’re starting to push now and really lean on the car – so it’s an excellent result. And a good birthday present for dad too. But that’s only half the job and there is another full day again tomorrow. It was a reasonable pace so as long as I can do that again tomorrow we’ll have some good points for our championship.”

Meanwhile, fellow Mitsubishi campaigner Dean Sumner (Rotorua) in another Lancer EVO 9 took the early overall rally lead from Palmerston North’s Sam Murray.

Sumner dropped from contention during the seventh test, after incurring damage in the previous stage when he hit a bridge. The bridge theme continued when Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour retired in the same stage, after running as fifth Kiwi for much of the day. Impact damage also cut in to Murray’s advantage. Left rear damage to his Impreza was visible evidence after the team had stopped to replace a lower suspension arm.

Defending champion and current points leader; Masterton’s Richard Mason (Subaru Impreza) had a less intense day, struggling with consistency. His day ended after the penultimate stage when four of his tyres delaminated to leave him stranded.

Third placed for the day is Auckland’s Dylan Turner (Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 9), 1min21.9sec behind Paddon.

First of the two-wheel drive cars was the Ford Fiesta of Auckland’s Kayne Barrie in 24th overall. In a day scarred by attrition, Barrie’s consistency has him comfortably ahead of the leading Kiwi2 car of Dave Strong (Honda Civic), placed 29th overall.

Sunday’s final leg of the rally is another eight gravel stages, again south of Whangarei. The cars have a 7am start before returning to the Quayside Town Basin for a ceremonial finish from 3pm in the afternoon having covered 727km in the two days.

Results after eight special stages, Hella International Rally of Whangarei:


1. Cody Crocker – Ben Atkinson (Australia, Subaru) 1hr39m 20.9s


2. Hayden Paddon – John Kennard (Geraldine, Mitsubishi) +12.2s


3. Sam Murray – Rob Ryan (Palmerston North, Subaru) +38.6s


4. Hiroshi Yanagisawa – Tadashi Misaizu (Japan, Subaru) +1:27.4


5. Dylan Turner – Sandy Bansal (Auckland, Mitsubishi) +1:34.1


6. Nathan Thomas – Richard Kelly (Wellington, Mitsubishi) +2:22.9


7. Stewart Taylor – Warwick Searle (Hawkes Bay, Mitsubishi) +2:41.5


8. Callum McInnes – Linda Loughlin (Tauranga, Subaru) +3:51.3


9. Patrick malley – Raymond Bennett (Auckland, Mitsubishi) +4:16.9


10. Rifat Sungkar – Herkusuma Mohamad (Indonesia, Subaru) +6:17.0


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