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They’re off overseas to compete in a WRC car for the first time later this month, but that won’t stop Hayden Paddon and John Kennard going flat-out to win this Saturday’s winner-takes-all final New Zealand Rally Championship round, the Trust House/Racetech Rally Wairarapa based in Masterton.
 
“The aim in to win the championship and that’s what John and I are going there to do,” says Paddon from Auckland where he and key supplier Reaction Racing have been fine-tuning the open class Stadium Cars Evo9 .
 
“That’s the same game plan our fellow title contenders Richard and Sara Mason will have – there’s no doubt we’ll both be going flat-out on this one day event for all nine stages. That makes it virtually a sprint event and I think that will suit us well.”
 
Going into the sixth and final NZRC event, Paddon, a two-time NZRC champion and the 2011 FIA Production World Rally Champion, has 100 points in the drivers’ championship. Just five points adrift is Mason, a four-time NZRC champion and seven-time winner of this Wairarapa event. A further four points back is Nelson’s Ben Hunt who has every chance of winning his maiden title if either of the former champs falter. With 30 points on offer for the overall winner, any of these three drivers could take the rally win and the championship title.
 
“It’s great for the championship and for rally fans, this winner-takes-all finale,” says Paddon. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
 
Following September’s Possum Bourne Memorial Rally and the considerable damage caused to his Evo9 following a heavy landing after a jump on the first stage, Paddon and his crew have been rebuilding the car.
 
“We’ve got the car perfect again but have also made some further developments to aspects which have hindered the car all year. I’m now confident the car will be better than ever, thanks to our hard-working team and Mike Healy of Reaction Racing.”
 
The rally gets underway at 7am this Saturday, 5 October, and covers 134 km of competitive stages on heavily-gravelled roads to the east of Masterton. The five fastest drivers on the power stage of the Possum Bourne Memorial Rally get to select their starting order in Wairarapa; Paddon is the fifth to pick so effectively gets no option where to start among the top give. He comments: “This won’t be an issue though as there isn’t a huge difference in road conditions within the top five.”
 
Paddon adds: “The last time we did this rally was 2009 on our way to winning our second NZRC title. We have done it three times in total but it had some different stages to this year. They are roads I enjoy – fast, flowing public roads closed for the event. It is a short rally which makes it a sprint, flat-out from the word go.
 
“The aim is to try and win the championship to help repay the immense amount of help we have had here in New Zealand, and how much our local team have put in in both rebuilding the car at the start of the season and keeping it going throughout the year.”
 
Following the Wairarapa rally, Paddon and Kennard prepare for their debut event in a World Rally Car – they are entered in the 24 to 27 September running of Rally de Espana as part of the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team, driving a Ford Fiesta RS WRC. This opportunity makes the 26-year-old the first New Zealander to compete in a new generation WRC model.
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