International rally star Hayden Paddon has made a flying start to Rally New Zealand this morning.
The Hyundai driver has outpaced the New Zealand Rally Championship contenders on Saturday morning's three special stages in the Raglan Coast region to build a commanding rally lead.
Paddon and co-driver John Kennard (Hyundai i20 AP4) led the rally at the mid-Saturday Raglan service park with a 2m 18.6s advantage over Lower Hutt's Adam Bligh (Mitsubishi Laver Evo6).
In the three-way fight for NZ Rally Championship honours it's series leader Andrew Hawkeswood (Auckland) in the strongest position at the mid-way point of day one.
Hawkeswood is in third place in his Mazda2 AP4 car and is running ahead of his nearest rivals in the title race — Rangiora's Matt Summerfield (Subaru) in fifth place and Auckland-based 2015 national champion Ben Hunt (Subaru) who has had mechanical issues this morning and is running in 13th place.
It's been an incident-packed morning with young Hawke's Bay driver Max Bayley putting his Ford Fiesta R5 into a ditch on the opening stage while gearbox problems had forced Rotorua's Sloan Cox (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10) to retire from second place after stage two.
The rally route makes another run through the Te Hutewai, Whaanga Coast and Te Akau South stages early this afternoon before heading to the rally headquarters at Mount Maunganui's ASB Baypark Stadium for overnight service at 6.25pm.
On Sunday the final round of the NZ Rally Championship is based in the Bay of Plenty with special stages at Manawahe Rd near Lake Rotoma, the TECT All Terrain Park and Mangatoi Rd/Mountain Rd near Oropi.