Hayden Paddon thought he’d seen it all when it came to rallying in New Zealand. He hadn’t. Not until Saturday and the Daybreaker Rally.
As day broke to reveal a start at the heart of New Zealand’s most beautiful town (it’s won the award 15 times) of Feilding, clocks ticked over to half five and Paddon thumbed the starter of the #1 Hyundai i20 Rally2. It was time. Silence no more.
The Manawatu and Rangitikei districts were about to feel the full force of a New Zealand Rally Championship round again.
Nine stages sat in wait, the morning would be bathed in sunshine while the afternoon would give way to heavy rain. None of that bothered recently crowned European Rally champions Paddon and co-driver John Kennard.
They won them all. And eased further clear in the race for this year’s Kiwi title – with Kennard now confirmed as co-driver champion.
But this success was different for Hayden.
“The Daybreaker is special,” he said. “I’d never done the event before, but everybody knew about it and the tough reputation it had back in the day. It’s not quite the same now, not going through the night like it used to, but it’s still a challenge.”
That challenge involved wading through deep dry gravel in the morning, before turning the wipers on after lunch. Careful not to enjoy himself too much on roads he’d never known, Paddon won by three minutes.
“It was awesome to experience these roads for the first time,” said Paddon. “They are unique to the rest of the country: very twisty and a lot more technical than I expected. It was one of the twister rallies we’ve done for a while, so having full trust in the pacenotes we’ve never checked was interesting, but they worked and John did an awesome job.
“It was quite interesting in these conditions when it is so loose. You have to have to find that balance between pushing and not having the car sliding too much. It was a rally of two halves with the rain in the afternoon but very enjoyable.”
Second overall – and second on every stage – was soon-to-be-Stateside-bound Supercar star Shane van Gisbergen. He borrowed an Audi S1 AP4 and loved his Daybreaker.
“It was tough in the morning learning the roads and in the dust,” he said. “Then with the rain in the afternoon, it was slop in the end. It was difficult, but so much fun.
“Hayden was really quick at the start and managed the lead well. I felt I got better throughout the day and hopefully I don’t feel as rusty when I next get into the car in a month’s time.”
Third place on this Brian Green Properties-supported event kept Raana Horan and Dave Neill’s admittedly distant Kiwi title chase alive. Top Manawatu local Geof Argyle and co-driver Kester Olivicorona finished eighth in a Mitsubishi Lancer while fastest two-wheel drive competitor was Rangiora’s Marcus van Klink and co-driver Toby Marsh (Mazda RX8) in 11th overall.
Taupo’s Mason Grimmer and co-driver Leighton Spurdle won the Don Locke Memorial Trophy for spirited competition. Grimmer’s dad Peter was one of the trophy contributors – celebrating the long-term family involvement in the sport.
Co-event organizer Tony McConachy awarded the inaugural Starlet Cup to Upper Hutt’s Brendon Cantwell and co-driver Lee Herd – in recognition for his result as a new competitor in a Toyota Starlet.
DirtFish supported the event, with Colin Clark attending to help promote the rally. Clark’s view was clear.
“It was a great rally,” he said. “The roads really were different down there. Lovely to see another part of New Zealand and great to work with guys like Paul [Fallon] and Tony [McConachy].
“Those two guys are really working hard to organize an event in a different, really dynamic kind of a way. It was great to work with them and I’ve no doubt the event had a fantastic future – providing they can turn the rain off!”