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Geraldine’s Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard have won the 2009 NAC Insurance International Rally of Whangarei – beating more experienced competitors in the 280 kilometre gravel competition.

The third round of the Vantage New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC), it is the second outright victory in the five round series for Paddon in the Team Green Mitsubishi.

Running as first car on the road for today’s concluding eight special stages in the Whangarei and Kaipara districts, Paddon inherited the lead when overnight leader Richard and Sara Mason retired on today’s fifth stage.  Clean-sweeping the field from their advantaged running position of eighth car on the road, a failed turbo-charger halted the progress of the early championship leading pair.

With over a minute advantage to the second placed and leading off-shore entrant of Cody Crocker (Subaru), Paddon, who is also entered in to the international, category – cruised to the finish.

“Four targets and four bulls-eyes,” an elated Paddon described of the four categories he was contesting this weekend (NZRC, Pirelli Star Driver, Pacific Cup, overall event).  “It was a bit of de ja vu from 2007 when we won here – our jack broke with two stages to go.  We couldn’t change our front tyres and they were absolutely worn.  Well exactly the same happened today.  We went to go put two new tyres on the front when we heard Richard was out and the jack wouldn’t go up, so now there is barely anything left of the front tyres.  So we really had to nurse it through, making sure we didn’t get a puncture.  To come out on top is hard luck for Richard, but as we’ve learned, to finish first first you must finish.  It’s just a huge credit to our whole team and sponsors – it’s awesome.”

Mason’s nil result for the day and Paddon’s outright victory has reversed the top-two placings in the Vantage New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC).  Paddon, the defending champion, now holds a 27 point advantage.

Second Kiwi and competing alongside Paddon in the third round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship, Hamilton’s Emma Gilmour and Rhianon Smyth finished fifth overall in the new Subaru Impreza.  Gilmour battled an electrical gremlin in the concluding stages, but was able to finish in competitive style, holding out group two competitor and third placed Geof Argyle for the weekend.  Argyle, with co-driver Tarryn Cox, also had their share of electrical issues, to bring the Palmerston North based Mitsubishi home ahead of rookie Glenn Inkster and Glenn Goldring (Timaru) in a similar group two Mitsubishi EVO.

Paddon’s weekend pace secured his place in the Pirelli Star Driver shoot-out.  In his fourth attempt at the international award, he headed off a local field of 12 entries.  Second fastest and taking the remaining position to challenge for the funded drive in select rounds of the 2010 World Rally Championship, Nelson’s Kieran Hall and co-driver Peter Hart were lucky to finish in their Subaru Impreza after damaging the left side.

Whangarei locals Ben Jagger and co-driver Ben Hawkins extend their lead in the two-wheel-drive standings, finishing as the front running Ford Fiesta.

“It’s what we came here to do,” said the 19 year old.  “Didn’t think we would have a very good chance yesterday morning, but everything seems to have worked in our favour and we’ve come out with a very good result. We’re pretty happy!”

Gearbox selection troubles dropped defending champion Patrick Malley and co-driving mother Linzi down the order after leading the field this morning in their Ford Fiesta.  That elevated Rally New Zealand Rising Star Development driver Ben Hunt and co-driver Jeff Cress to second.

Bio-diesel powered Skoda Fabia vRS of Rangiora’s Matt Summerfield and co-driver Dave Neill took overtook statesman Reg Cook and co-driver Mark Ballentyne’s Nissan Micra in the small-car stakes.  The 16-year old South Island junior finished a slender 5.6 seconds ahead after the 280 kilometre event, although trails in the overall Kiwi-2 standings.

Remaining classic competitor Mike and Helen Cameron of Taranaki completed the event, scoring maximum points in their Mitsubishi Lancer to take the lead in the series.  The farming couple proceeded with due caution, following the dramatic bridge impact demise of defending champion Rob Wylie and co-driver Paul Turner in the ex-Teesdale Nissan 240RS on Saturday.

Christchurch’s Matt Jansen and co-driver Jason Farmer hold a comfortable lead in both the rookie and junior titles.  The pair finished eighth championship crew for the event, with their steady pace not quite enough to secure the final slot for the Pirelli Star Driver award.

With a little over five weeks break, the five round championship moves to the Wairarapa mid-July for the penultimate round:  Trusthouse Racetech Rally Wairarapa (18-19 July).

Photo: Euan Cameron

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