New Zealand's top rally duo Hayden Paddon and John Kennard took a handsome victory at this weekend's Drivesouth Rally Otago with their winning margin of more than four minutes over nearest competitors Richard and Sara Mason.
The world rally championship-winning team-mates contested Otago's opening round of the New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) in the rebuilt Stadium Cars Evo9.
While Paddon said there's still further development work they plan to do with the now R4-spec car, he was happy with the team's result.
"To win again is great; it's really good to be back in competition again and be driving in one of my favourite events in the New Zealand Rally Championship,'' said Paddon who collected maximum championship points after winning 13 of the two-day event's 16 special stages which covered 258.11kms.
"Hopefully this gives us some momentum now to ultimately get back overseas, but both John and I enjoyed the weekend's competition - it's a little more relaxed and you can enjoy the driving side a lot more. It's been pretty tough the past 12 months and it's been a while since we won something, so we're very pleased.''
It wasn't all plain sailing for Geraldine's Paddon and Blenheim's Kennard as they experienced a few issues.
"We had fuel pickup issues on Saturday morning, so were probably quickly lucky to even get through until service, where the guys did a great job fixing the issues. The rest of Saturday went as well as it possibly could have and we ended the day two minutes and 56 seconds ahead of the Masons in second place. Sunday delivered a few turbo boost problems and unfortunately, just before Kuri Bush, one of my absolute favourite stages, the turbo hose blew leaving us about down about 80hp for that stage.
"Overall, the whole weekend has been really successful considering the amount of work everyone's put in at home over the past five months to get the car going again. And it's particularly good to be back rallying with our old team. Everyone did a great job throughout the weekend as well as prior to the rally, so this result is a big credit for all their work.''
Paddon is a two-time New Zealand rally champion, taking the title in 2008 and 2009, and his victory in Otago places him once more at the top of the leader-board.
"It's like an old club, being back rallying with people we know so well. Everyone gets on really well, it's a great atmosphere where I can just enjoy the driving.
"The championship is really wide open as everyone goes through this changing phase with all these new cars,'' says Paddon referring to the new Super Rally category for four-wheel-drive Group N, open class and Super 2000-spec vehicles.
"Emma Gilmour didn't start in her new car as it wasn't quite ready and Chris West had to restart after mechanical issues, so everyone's still trying to get on top of the new cars as they sort a few reliability issues. But it's certain everyone's going to get faster and more reliable with every event. Hopefully the same applies to us as well.''
With six weeks until round two in Whangarei, Paddon and his technical team will head back to the workshop to fine-tune the Evo9 while Kennard returns to Blenheim's busy wine-grape harvesting period.