Motorsport: Five in, five under belt for Paddon

Haydon Paddon found the morning slippery but made some suspension changes for the afternoon - they made him faster but not quick enough to beat the competition. Photo / Geoff Rider
Haydon Paddon found the morning slippery but made some suspension changes for the afternoon - they made him faster but not quick enough to beat the competition. Photo / Geoff Rider

Haydon Paddon made it five from five when he won the Group N standard production class at the International Rally of Whangarei in his Subaru WRX STi.

The Geraldine flyer, accompanied by co-driver John Kennard, has competed in five events this year - winning Group N in all of them.

The Whangarei event is the third time this year Paddon has won a round of the New Zealand Rally Championship. He has also won both rounds of the Production World Rally Championship he has started in - Portugal and Argentina.

His next event is the Finland round of the world series at the end of the month.

A three-time winner of the Whangarei event, Paddon did his best to make it four but had to concede victory to Australian Chris Atkinson in a highly modified Proton Satria Neo S2000. Paddon finished runner-up to Atkinson but only after setting a string of stage record-fastest times on the back-country gravel roads southwest of Whangarei.

"The stages were very slippery in the morning," said Paddon. "The car was sliding around a bit too much. We made some suspension changes for the afternoon. It was better and we went faster, but so did Chris [Atkinson].

"It was a good weekend. We've had to push hard for the whole rally," said Paddon. "It was good preparation for Finland. On some of the other events we've only had to consolidate our position and not battle all the way to the finish."

Paddon has reduced Richard Mason's lead in the national series with his perfect haul of points from Whangarei, where Mason was second among the local competitors and third overall.

Emma Gilmour, in the other leading WRX STi, was fifth overall and the third Kiwi driver on Saturday, despite an electrical problem in the afternoon's stages. Earlier in the day she had been ahead of Mason.

A frustrated Gilmour had to contend with the same problem later on. "The engine wasn't cutting out, but we didn't have all the power we're used to," said Gilmour.

The Dunedin-based driver had been pushing for an outright podium finish over the early stages of the two-day event.

"I was really pleased with the way the rally started for us," said Gilmour, who was second-fastest in the opening stage and held third place behind Atkinson and Paddon after Saturday morning's opening bracket of four stages.

"The car was handling superbly on that first stage and I felt I was driving really well, too."

But a problem in the car's wiring loom reduced power and cost her significantly as the day progressed. By the end of the final stage she had slipped back to end the leg fifth overall, third in the national championship section of the event and fourth in the Asia-Pacific division.

Come Sunday, Gilmour spent much of the leg battling with former national champion Chris West for fifth overall. West gained the edge in that contest, for while Gilmour's misfire had been cured, the car continued to lose power as the rally progressed.

She seemed to be heading for sixth place before receiving an unexpected hand-up when Atkinson's teammate, Scottish rally ace Alistair McRae, was slowed by a gearbox problem over the final two stages of the rally.

With McRae slipping down the order, Gilmour regained fifth place and with it improved to third in the Asia-Pacific section of the event in which she was registered to score points for the visiting MRF team.

Indeed, Gilmour was the best performing of the three MRF drivers over the event, which was particularly satisfying as they comprised defending Asia-Pacific champion Katsuhiko Taguchi (Japan), and Asia-Pacific regular and former Indian champion Gaurav Gill.

Her fourth placing in the national championship component of the rally was also enough to keep Gilmour placed third in the domestic series heading into next month's season finale in Hawkes Bay.

However, with the two drivers ahead of her in the series - Paddon and Richard Mason - also finishing in front of her this weekend, the points gap between Gilmour and the championship lead has widened.

"That means that while I still have a theoretical chance of taking the title, to do so will require both Hayden and Richard to have very bad runs on the final round," she said.

The muddier conditions did not suit her as well and she dropped back to fourth behind Chris West.

In the national series, Mason has had his points lead reduced to 26 points from Paddon, with Gilmour still third. The final round in Hawkes Bay, originally scheduled for next month, is likely to be postponed until the first weekend in October. Paddon's and Gilmour's efforts have already netted Subaru the manufacturer's title with a round to spare as it is an unbeatable 141 ahead of Mitsubishi.

With his victory at Whangarei, Atkinson continues to lead the Asia Pacific championship.

Rally Whangarei 2011, Overall Classification

1. Chris Atkinson / Stephan Prevot (Australia, Proton Satria Neo S2000) 3h01m26.9s
2. Hayden Paddon / John Kennard (Geraldine, Subaru Impreza WRX STi) 3h01m39.3s
3. Richard Mason / Sarah Mason (Masterton, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X) 3h03m15.0s
4. Chris West / Erin Kyle (Timaru, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo) 3h04m13.9s
5. Emma Gilmour / Glenn Macneall (Dunedin, Subaru Impreza WRX STi) 3h04m52.1s
6. Alistair McRae / Bill Hayes (Scotland, Proton Satria Neo S2000) 3h05m22.1s

New Zealand Rally Championship points after the Whangarei rally:

1. R Mason - 410pts
2. H Paddon - 384pts
3. E Gilmour - 322pts

- NZ Herald

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