It was an unbeaten and enjoyable weekend on home roads for Kiwi rally star Hayden Paddon who clinched a Rally New Zealand victory at Mount Maunganui on Sunday afternoon.
Paddon and co-driver John Kennard won all 12 stages of the Waikato and Bay of Plenty based event in their Hyundai i20 AP4 to claim victory by more than seven minutes.
The win puts a positive finish to Paddon's often troubled 2017 campaign in the world championship by following up on his podium finish at WRC Rally Australia in Coffs Harbour last weekend.
"Things are starting to turn," Paddon said at the ASB Baypark Stadium finish on Sunday afternoon.
"We've had a good weekend. I really enjoyed the roads and the car has gone well."
On new stages he had never driven before in his career Paddon was holding a little in reserve as he raced through the dusty Bay of Plenty roads.
"When you have such a big lead and you know it's important to bring home a result for Hyundai New Zealand, you take it little bit easier," he said.
Behind Paddon the fight for the podium places also saw the 2017 New Zealand Rally Championship go down to the wire.
Series leader Andrew Hawkeswood (Whitford) remained under pressure from Rangiora's Matt Summerfield through the final day. While Summerfield edged ahead of Hawkeswood to finish the rally in second place, the 14-point advantage he took into the final day was enough for Hawkeswood to secure his first national title by a final margin of 10 points.
"It's been 20 years since I first entered the national rally championship," said Hawkeswood, who campaigns a Mazda2 AP4 car.
"We had a few years off and then had good go from 2000 to 2004. And then in the last couple of years we've had a good crack at it again with a great team of people around which is so valuable. And that's what's done it."
Hawkeswood said he enjoyed the duel with Summerfield.
"It was a great battle. That's what it's all about — I enjoy the competition as much as the driving," said Hawkeswood.
Paddon had praise for the newly crowned national champion.
"It's great to see Andrew win the championship. He's put a lot into this concept of AP4 cars. It's brought a lot to the championship and I think it will continue to grow."
Summerfield was driving an older generation Subaru Impreza and never gave up on his title bid.
"I did everything I could. I drove as fast as I could all weekend," said Summerfield.
"Well done to Andrew. He's done it after many years of trying and hopefully we can be back again next year."
Fourth overall in both the rally and the championship went to 2016 national champion David Holder (Mt Maunganui) driving a Holden Barina AP4. Holder made a climb up the order on Sunday after losing time with a puncture on Saturday and was the second fastest driver through Sunday's stages beaten only by Paddon.
There was final stage drama for Emma Gilmour (Dunedin) who lost 11 minutes and fifth place when a electrical fault halted her Suzuki Swift AP4. Auckland's Dave Strong gained fifth place in his Ford Fiesta and Warwick Redfern claimed his best national rally result in sixth place.
Tauranga's Mitch James (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) led from start-to-finish in the Motorsport BOP Tauranga Clubmans and Novice Rally which followed the national event through Sunday's six stages.
James finished 53.8secs ahead of Hamilton's Stephen Barker (Subaru Impreza) while Tauranga's Jay Pittams (Subaru Impreza) completed the podium finishers.
2017 Rally New Zealand — results:
1 Hayden Paddon (Wanaka)/John Kennard (Blenheim) Hyundai i20 AP4, 2h 34m 49.2s
2 Matt Summerfield (Rangiora)/Nicole Summerfield (Rangiora) Subaru Impreza STi, +7m 28.7s
3 Andrew Hawkeswood (Whitford)/Jeff Cress (Whitford) Mazda 2 AP4, +7m 36.6s
4 David Holder (Mt Maunganui)/Jason Farmer (Huntly) Holden Barina AP4, +9m 14.6s
5 Dave Strong (Auckland)/Bruce McKenzie (Paeroa) Ford Fiesta S2000, +15m 03.2s
6 Warwick Redfern/Ron Bartels (Auckland) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo8, +15m 36.4s
7 Brian Green (Palm Nth)/Fleur Pedersen (Hastings) Mitsubishi Mirage AP4, +15m 58.3s
8 Dylan Thomson (Waiuku)/Amy Hudson (Christchurch) Ford Fiesta ST150, +17m 17.7s
9 Max Tregilgas (Rotorua)/Glenn Goldring (Auckland) Ford Fiesta ST150 +17m 29.8s
10 Anthony Jones (Cambridge)/Tanya Gwynne (Hamilton) Ford Escort, +19m 05.6s
2017 NZ rally Championship - final standings after six rounds:
1 Hawkeswood, 138pts
2 Summerfield, 128pts
3 Ben Hunt (Auckland) Subaru WRX STI, 114pts
4 Holder, 104pts
5 Graham Featherstone (Te Aroha) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo7, 69pts
6 Sloan Cox (Rotorua) Mitsubishi Lancer EvoX, 68pts