Hayden Paddon battled through a driveshaft problem on his Hyundai i20 AP4 to lead the Winmax Otago Rally by over three minutes at the end of the day.
Paddon, an eight-time winner of the opening round of the New Zealand Rally Championship, won six of Saturday’s seven stages to lead Ben Hunt’s new factory-fresh Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo and Emma Gilmour’s Suzuki Swift AP4.
Despite feeling the opening stage of the rally, Switchback, was “his worst stage in a long time” the once Hyundai World Rally Championship driver’s main competition came from himself as he aimed to beat his own stage records.
He managed just that on the 18.48-mile Stoneburn test, eclipsing his old record time by an impressive 17.9 seconds before a broken driveshaft forced Paddon to momentarily stop on the Moonlight stage and drop 14.6s to the leading time. That was set by Hunt, who won a stage with his new car at just the third attempt.
Paddon’s problem was fixed for the very next stage and in spite of picking up a front puncture a few miles from the end of the day’s final test, he wouldn’t be bettered throughout the rest of the day – although his pace was just narrowly shy of record timings on Hartfield, Shag Valley, the second pass of Moonlight and Nenthorn.
Hunt has assumed the place of best of the rest, largely thanks to setting some impressive pace on the whopping 23-mile Nenthorn test in particular to lose just 16.2s to runaway leader Paddon.
That charge lifted him ahead of McLaren Extreme E driver Gilmour into the second podium spot but it was still an impressive day for Gilmour, who showed consistently strong pace.
The battle is fierce in the top five too as Raana Horan (Škoda Fabia R5) is just 25s back from Gilmour and a mere 2.1s up the road from Ari Pettigrew (Holden Barina AP4).
Robbie Stokes had been in strong podium contention early on but slipped back when a driveline issue afflicted his Ford Fiesta AP4. Last year’s New Zealand Mainland champion is still doing enough to hold onto sixth spot overall, though.
The top 10 – rounded out by Todd Bawden (Ford Fiesta R5), Regan Ross (Ford Fiesta R5), Dylan Turner (Audi S1 AP4) and Mike Young (Subaru Impreza WRX) – doesn’t feature the Toyota factory-supported Yaris AP4 of Jack Hawkeswood as he lost over five minutes with an issue on his debut in the car, consigning him to 16th place.
He still fared better than number eight seed Matt Summerfield, who was forced to park up on the very first stage with turbo failure aboard his Mitsubishi Mirage AP4.
In the ENEOS Otago International Classic Rally it’s Deane Buist who leads the charge on his first outing with his Toyota Celica Group B replica.
Buist leads Ford Escort Mk2 rival Jeff Judd by half a minute at close of play on Saturday but that doesn’t quite reflect the intense battle on the stages, as 24.1s of those seconds were dropped by Judd on the final stage of the day.
In a similarly tight contest, John Silcock resisted the pressure of Shane Murland in his Mazda RX-7, holding Escort pilot Murland to a 14.1s deficit ahead of Sunday’s eight stages.
Deb Kibble rounds out the top five in her Mitsubishi EX Lancer while drifting legend ‘Fanga’ Dan Woolhouse has been impressive to lie ninth in the famous Team Rossendale Escort.
Nick Marston leads the classic 4WD field in his Subaru after erstwhile leader Sean Haggarty went off the road and bent his Impreza’s steering.
But sadly multiple Olympic gold medallist Hamish Bond retired on the fourth stage of the day with gearbox trouble in his Subaru.
SS7 Four Mile was canceled due to a loose cattleguard, while the planned Tarmac Super Stage in the center of Dunedin was called off due to COVID-19 considerations.