Sam Murray has won the New Zealand Rally Championship in a nail-biting finish at the Rally of Nelson.
In the final of six rounds in the 2007 Vantage Aluminium Joinery New Zealand Rally Championship, the 30-year old held off a spirited charge by rally winner Hayden Paddon to secure the title by one point.

Contested over nine gravel stages in the forest region south of Nelson, Murray said it was one of his hardest day’s ever, with fine weather early in the weekend turning to dismal rain.

“We went pretty cautiously… not only had we gone cautiously, but the gravel slowed us up [being first car on the road].  It was a matter of doing what we needed to do to win the championship.  Our intention was never to win today – although it would have been nice to be a bit close,” Murray said.

In taking the Goldstar and Group N 4WD championship win, Murray was able to steer co-driver Rob Ryan to his sixth co-drivers title.
Geraldine’s Paddon (Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 8) took overall victory for the rally, his win-at-all-costs form kept him well clear of the competition – in a one-two result for Mitsubishi.
“Right from the word go we had to win to give ourselves a chance (for the championship).  It worked out well really; it’s been a good day and gives us good confidence going in to next year,” Paddon said at the finish.
Second was Rotorua’s Dean Sumner in a Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 9.

“It was a bit unexpected having the rain come down that’s for sure.  We had a lot of hard tyres which didn’t really suit us for the road conditions today.  We were having a good little battle between the three of us until I made a mistake and had a spin and dropped out of the running – then it was just a case of cruising to the finish.”
First Subaru for the rally was American driver Ken Block, in third position.  Benefiting from a swept surface by running 11th car on the road, Block was determined to put on a show having taken outright victory at a rally event in Colorado the weekend previous:

“My goals obviously were to just try finish the event; it’s been a rough three events here prior.  Obviously I’m very very happy with third – it worked out pretty well.”
“A felt a lot more at home on these roads – I’m getting more used to these cambered roads and how to attack them.  I guess these roads are a little more flatter and quicker type turns so able to attack them similar to I do back home in my open class car.”
Fifth for the day following a brake failure in the penultimate stage, two-time champion Richard Mason (Subaru Impreza) was left with the remaining podium position for the overall rally championship:

“We wanted to come here to win – Hayden beat us fair and square…we were having a go on stage eight, we wanted to try take some time out of him.  Whether we picked up a stick or a rock, but for whatever reason we lost a brake line and that was that.  We would have liked to take it right down to the wire if we could but it didn’t happen that way.”
Concluding the sub-category battles, Classic contender, Feilding’s Euan Fuge (Mazda RX3) held off the charge of out-going champion of Bert Murray, through natural attrition.  Needing a similar paced competitor to wedge between the faster Bert Murray and defensive Fuge, two of the contenders both retired after the first special stage. 

The Nissan 240RS of Auckland’s Rob Wylie succumbed to transmission failure, while Deborah Kibble’s Mitsubishi Lancer was sidelined with differential failure.  That left Fuge only needing to finish to secure his maiden championship title:

“The car performed very well – it did every stage in last years Silver Fern rally plus this championship.  All I had to do in the end was drive around the rocks to ensure I got here,” Fuge said at the podium ceremony.
Another tense chase for supremacy resulted in Auckland’s Mark Tapper uplifting the Group N 2WD championship title from point’s leader Kayne Barrie.  The Ford Fiesta pilots had a full-on race during the day when pace-setter Tapper punctured in the first quarter of the opening stage.
Losing over two minutes, Tapper was able to claw back the deficit to finish 3.4s in front of Barrie to take the title by one point.

Also contested during the 26-car field, was the Kiwi-2 round, settling the remaining podium positions following Dave Strong’s un-touchable points leader after the Rally New Zealand chase.

Auckland’s Andrew Keighley finished second ahead of former champion Aaron Cook: all in Honda’s.
During the ceremonial finish, Vantage Aluminium Joinery spokesman Craig Vincent congratulated the competitors and championship winners, pledging his intent to continue supporting the series in to 2008.
Final Results
2007 Vantage Aluminium Joinery New Zealand Rally Championship
Goldstar (overall championship) – top five
S Murray 223
H Paddon 222
R Mason 201
D Sumner 195
C McInnes 126
Group N 2WD
M Tapper 271
K Barrie 270
D Malley 196
C Lange 188
D Strong 274
A Keighley 217
A Cook 171
R Cook 171
C Booth 118
E Fuge 171
R Murray 169
K Frankum 120
R Wylie 104
D Kibble 88
M Cameron 54
0800 Boxman Rally of Nelson
1. Hayden Paddon/John Kennard, Lancer EVO 8, 1h55m21.5s
2. Dean Sumner/Paul Fallon, Lancer EVO 9, 1:56:51.5
3. Ken Block/Alex Gelsomino, Impreza, 1:57:13.5
4. Chris West/Garry Cowan, Lancer EVO 9, 1:57:24.6
5. Richard Mason/Sara Randall, Impreza, 1:57:50.6
6. Sam Murray/Rob Ryan, Impreza, 1:58:51.0

Photos: Euan Cameron


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