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22-year-old defending Vantage New Zealand Rally Champion Hayden Paddon has a job on his hands to fend off giant-killing Richard Mason in this weekend’s penultimate round at the Trust House Racetech Rally Wairarapa (18-19 July).

The fourth round of the 2009 season, Paddon and co-driver John Kennard in the Team Green Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 9 will head the field as current point leaders in the best-of-five championship season.  However it has been the Masterton based husband and wife Mason pairing in the BNT Subaru that has previously shone at the Wairarapa event with dominant wins.

A two-day journey broken in to 15 special stage tests totalling 249.36 kilometres of gravel, Paddon’s current 27 point advantage for the overall Goldstar title has him as the one to beat.

“We’re going there to win outright,” says Paddon.  “We’re there to 100% win the rally – which would have to be the hardest this season.  It’d be like trying to beat the Fin’s in Finland if you want a comparison,” he says of the Mason dominance.

“Richard (and co-driver Sara) is always going to be fast there.  But we found we could improve the car in the loose gravel when we were running first on the road at Whangarei.  This time it won’t be so much of a disadvantage with Richard starting right behind us - we’re not going down without a fight for sure.”

Being held mid-winter this year, the Wairarapa and Tararua district roads follow a traditional journey with the first day based around the remote location of Pongoaroa on Saturday and more open terrain north of Masterton on Sunday.

For the Mason’s, the weekend focus will be on finishing ahead of Paddon.

“Our number one goal is absolutely the championship – there is nothing else.  We have a good sponsorship with BNT – and they want us to win, so we have to aim on that,” said the 31-year-old Mason.

“The points system is more about finishing the rally than winning the rally, so from that point of view we have to finish.”

However Mason cautions former champion Chris West and co-driver Chris Cobham could be the ones to watch.  Christchurch based West will be driving a newer model Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 9 – again in left-hand-drive configuration.

Also commenting on the winter conditions providing a more consistent road surface for the field, competition focus stretches across the championship tables.

Third car on the road; Andrew Hawkeswood and co-driver Roger Hudson are tagged as event favourites.  Winning the rally outright in 2008, Alexandra based Hawkeswood in a group two (modified) Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 7 will be scoring against current class leader Geof Argyle.  In a heavier version of the EVO 7, Argyle and co-driver Tarryn Cox (Palmerston North) have an almost insurmountable lead for the elder car category and will start from fifth position.

Hours from having consolidated her third placed position in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship, Hamilton’s Emma Gilmour arrives fresh from competition in Japan to protect her current New Zealand ranking – third, behind Paddon and Mason.

Slotted in as leading two-wheel-drive competitor, Wellington’s Aaron Cook and co-driver Strattan Campbell debut a new Honda Civic.  The pair trail Rangiora’s Matt Summerfield (co-driver Dave Neill) in the biodiesel powered Skoda Fabia vRS and Auckland’s Reg Cook (co-driver Mark Ballantyne) in the Nissan Micra.

Starting behind Cook is defending Group N two-wheel-drive class champion Patrick Malley and co-driver Malcolm Read (Auckland) in the Ford Fiesta.  The class is currently led by Whangarei’s Ben Jagger (co-driver Ben Hawkins), with Rally New Zealand Rising Star Scholarship winner Ben Hunt (co-driver Jeff Cress) of Nelson in second and Malley third.

Having badly damaged the classic Nissan 240RS at the previous round near Whangarei, defending class champion Rob Wylie and Paul Turner of Auckland now trail Taranaki’s Mike Cameron (co-driver Helen Cameron) in a Mitsubishi Lancer.

For a number of the 27 championship teams, the Wairarapa event will be their first visit to the varying terrain that includes traversing the Puketoi mountain range.  Of the first-timers, Matt Jansen in the Christchurch Casino Subaru Impreza has a 37 point lead over Nelson’s Subaru team Kieran Hall for the rookie standings.  Jansen also has a sizeable lead in the junior standings over Rotorua’s Sloan Cox in a Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X.

Allowed one-pass over the roads on Friday as pre-event reconnaissance, the teams and cars will be on display at Masterton’s Copthorne Hotel and Resort Solway Park from 5:45pm leading up to the 6pm ceremonial start.  Followed by an autograph session and mayoral reception at the rally base/hotel venue, the teams have the evening to prepare for the start of weekend action.

Departing from Pongaroa at 8:40 Saturday morning, seven all-gravel stages return the teams to Masterton for an over-night halt.  Resuming at 8am from the Copthorne Solway Park hotel on Sunday morning, for a further eight gravel stages, the cars return for a 3pm finish and podium presentation.
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