Three-way tussle for New Zealand Rally Championship
- 2nd October 2013, 9:08am
The sixth and final round for the 2013 title see’s two-time NZ champion and 2011 FIA Production World Rally Champion Hayden Paddon leading the trio in to the all-or-nothing fight. On a total of 100 points with 30 on offer for the overall win Paddon has formidable competition with four time NZ champion Mason (four-time champion) a slender five points behind. Trailing by a further four points, Ben Hunt has led the championship dominators for the second-half of the season, only dropping behind once his worst round result points were deducted ahead of this weekend’s finale.
Paddon, who missed two rounds recently while competing at World Rally Championship (WRC) level, says he’s really looking forward to the weekend. He and Blenheim based co-driver John Kennard will return with their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 – a stark contrast to the Ford World Rally Car he will drive later in the month at the Spanish round of the WRC.
“We have only one game plan – the same as Richard (Mason),” says Paddon. “And that will be to go flat-out and win. The rally and roads will be a lot of fun – and being a one day event with shortish stages makes it a sprint event and I think that’ll suit us well. The aim is to win the championship and John and I are going there to make sure we do.
“We’ve also made quite few developments to the car that we’ve yet to exploit so we are confident the car will be fast.”
Paddon last contested the event in 2009 – the season he won his second consecutive NZRC title.
Having won the rally every time since, the Wairarapa based Richard and Sara Mason are equally intent on victory in their Subaru STi – buoyed by recent victory at the Possum Bourne Memorial Rally. The more reliable run allowed them to claw back significant points to leap-frog Hunt in the run for the title.
“Barring any mechanicals the winner will take the championship – and that’s the way we want it – a fight to the end,” says Mason. “I think it’s probably most exciting season ending battle for a while – to have three right in the hunt, particularly since it includes Hayden and myself. I think it will make for a fantastic weekend and makes it exciting for everyone – especially for our local community and supporters. They are keen to get out and watch.
“We just have to stick with what we know – tidy up little bits of our handling so there is plenty of scope to make the car go faster.”
Forestry based diesel mechanic Ben Hunt says the weekend’s title aspirations are a side-bar to his season aim of finishing every stage in their Subaru STi. The philosophy of consistently point scoring allowed the former tennis champion and co-driver Tony Rawstorn to pop ahead of other chasing title rivals at the late June Daybreaker Rally held on neighbouring roads in the Manawatu.
“Obviously Hayden and Richard are top drivers and you’d be pushing to beat them in a Group N car like ours. So our goal will be to finish and put in good times to wrap up a consistent season – we can’t ask for much more than that,” says Hunt.
“And although I prefer longer stages – the kind you grind your way through, I really enjoy the Wairarapa roads. We’ve done well there in the past and while it will be my first time in a 4WD car they are nice flowing public gravel roads.”
Other competitors in the Super Rally by Auto Finance Direct category include 2004 champion Chris West (Timaru) and Chris Cobham in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X. Plagued by mechanical gremlins throughout the season, the win in August at the Canterbury Rally showed West could still top point score and while has a mathematical chance at victory – it’d require Paddon, Mason and Hunt to not finish.
The category also caters for the new generation cars, led by Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour who travels to the Wairarapa rejuvenated believing the team has eliminated the engine issue that has consistently side-lined the Suzuki Swift since its debut earlier in the season.
Exponent Andrew Hawkeswood will debut his Mazda 2 to competition this weekend – a sister car specification wise to the Gilmour Swift.
Also tackling the nine special stages totalling 134km of competition are teams scoring points toward class titles as well as their overall season standing.
Heading the modern 2WD competition is Tauranga’s Phil Campbell, who’s R2 specification Ford Fiesta illustrates the epitome of leading-edge engineering and has endured a season long tit-for-tat battle with Christchurch based Josh Marston – in an identical car. The pair are never more than a few seconds apart at the end of a day’s competition and often encroach on the positional placings of superior powered 4WD cars in the overall standings.
Similarly for the BNT Historic Rally category – that is dominated by Canterbury based competitors. Headed by Christchurch’s Jeff Judd, he and co-driver Malcolm Read have quietly accumulated points to minimise the gap to title encroaching Deane Buist. Both in Ford Escort RS1800’s they are spread by seven points while defending champion Marcus van Klink of Kaiapoi has accrued 90 in his Mazda RX7 – 28 behind Judd.
First car on the road will be decided from Friday night’s start order draw selection where the five fastest from the Possum Bourne Memorial Rally ‘Power Stage’ get to choose their road position – fastest first. Being held at the Copthorne Solway Park, first to pick will be Te Aroha’s Graham Featherstone, followed by Richard Mason, Sloan Cox (Rotorua), Ben Hunt and Hayden Paddon.
The Trusthouse Racetech Rally Wairarapa starts from the Copthorne Solway Park 7am Saturday morning, and takes in stages to the south, east and north of Masterton before returning for a ceremonial finish from 5:10pm.
As well as points for finishing, the championship determinate could well extend to the bonus points offered at the ‘Power Stage’ – the eighth stage ‘Daggs Road’.
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