It’s done. The perfect 10 from the perfect weekend. Hayden Paddon and John Kennard dominated the Otago Rally, winning the Dunedin event for the 10th time.
The Hyundai New Zealand star continued an unbeaten home run which now stretches back to the 2017 Coromandel Rally; he’s been winning down under for almost six years straight. A crushing, four-minute-plus victory over Ari Pettigrew’s Holden Barina AP4 would indicate nothing is going to change any time soon.
As the opening New Zealand Rally Championship event of the season headed south of Dunedin for its second and final day, the Hyundai i20 N Rally2 driver set about the Otago roads with one thing in mind: stage records.
Waipori Gorge was a good place to start Sunday morning as the 2016 Rally Argentina winner bested his own 2019 record by two seconds. There was frustration in the following Berwick test – a new format meant there was no record to beat. Lifting 48.7 seconds out of his nearest rival across the 18-miler was, nonetheless, enormously impressive.
There was another record in Whare Flat, but the best was saved until the very last. Kuri Bush: the hero-maker.
Paddon won the stage and lowered his own record by another half a second.
“It’s been a good day,” Paddon told DirtFish. “I love driving these stages. I have to say a big congratulations to the organizers, they’ve done another great job.
“For me, it’s been really interesting to drive the Rally2 car over the AP4. The chance to be in the same car all year – in the European [Rally Championship] and down here at home is really useful. It means we can work more on the development of the car and really find the right setup.
“Like I said, it’s been a really good weekend – not just for me, but for the whole team.”
It was a 1-2 for Paddon’s team, with Pettigrew’s Holden taking second despite a worsening engine problem.
“I noticed it going up the final climb at Danseys Pass yesterday,” he said. “This morning we got the temperature reading 120… We turned the ALS off and just tried to keep the thing cooler. It wasn’t easy, especially with Ben closing in. But we made it.”
Ben is, of course, Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo driver Ben Hunt. He took the final podium step by six minutes from the similarly mounted Raana Horan.
Emma Gilmour’s Citroën C3 Rally2 was fifth with Josh Marston Barina sixth.
As you might have expected, Mikko Hirvonen stretched his legs to win the Classic category by 1m18s from Deane Buist. The Finn’s famous Ford Escort RS1800 was a huge draw across the weekend – but the appreciation was mutual for the 15-time World Rally winner.
“I have just loved this event,” he said. “If you ask me to pick my favorite stage, I can’t – they have all been fantastic.”
Triple world BMX champion Sarah Walker was another big attraction. Her run in a Subaru Impreza H6 was spoiled when she slid off a viscously slippery right-hander in Berwick – the same corner which claimed Jack Hawkeswood’s Toyota – but she returned for the final two tests.
“I definitely want to do more,” she said. “I’ve caught the bug – it’s been so much fun!”