Motorsport: Four drivers with chance at title

By Eric Thompson

Hayden Paddon, with co-driver John Kennard, is leading the championship despite missing two rounds. Picture / Euan Cameron
Hayden Paddon, with co-driver John Kennard, is leading the championship despite missing two rounds. Picture / Euan Cameron

The gravel bashers have arrived in the Wairarapa for the last round of the Goldstar Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship and there are four drivers in with a mathematical chance of taking out the title.

Hayden Paddon, Richard Mason and Ben Hunt are in the box seats to take the national series, being separated by only nine points, but as there are 30 points on offer, Chris West could pounce if the others fail to fire.

Paddon sits on top of the points table with Mason just five points back, Hunt a further four points behind with West lurking in fourth 23 points off the pace.

Paddon and co-driver John Kennard missed two of the domestic championship rounds while racing in two WRC rounds in Europe and will be piloting their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 this weekend.

Paddon last contested the event in 2009 - the year he won his second consecutive NZRC title - and is looking forward to getting more seat time before he jets off to Spain in preparation for his tilt in a full-blown top of the range works WRC car with M-Sport.

"The aim is to win the championship and that's what John and I are going there to do," said Paddon.

"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.

"We've also made quite a few developments to the car that we've yet to exploit so we are confident the car will be fast."

Buoyed by their recent victory at the Possum Bourne Memorial Rally, the Masons are no strangers to Rally Wairarapa, having won the event seven times, and are intent on victory today to clinch their fifth national championship.

In the past Mason has been hampered by mechanical woes but has found consistency of late to accumulate points and leap-frog Hunt to be tucked right in behind Paddon.

"Barring any mechanical issues, the winner will take the championship, and that's the way we want it - a fight to the end," said Mason.

"I think it's probably the most exciting season-ending battle for a while. To have three right there in the hunt, particularly since it includes Hayden and myself, I think will make for a fantastic weekend and makes it exciting for everyone.

"To get to 24 [NZRC round wins] by winning our home round for the eighth time and taking a record fifth NZRC title, all in front of our supporters, friends and family ... who could ask for more motivation. Bring it on."

Hunt reckons the weekend's title aspirations are a sidebar to his season's aim of finishing every stage. He and his co-driver Tony Rawstorn have aimed for consistency the whole season and the attitude has helped the pair to be where they are now on the series points table.

"Obviously Hayden and Richard are top drivers and you'd be pushing to beat them in a Group N car like ours," said Hunt.

"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.

"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."

The rally starts at 7am today and covers 134km of competitive stages on heavily gravelled roads to the east of Masterton. The five fastest drivers from the power stage of the Possum Bourne rally select their starting order. Paddon is the fifth to pick so effectively gets no option where to start. "This won't be an issue though as there isn't a huge difference in road conditions within the top five," he said.

- NZ Herald

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