Australian Chris Atkinson is the first international driver to win the International Rally of Whangarei, taking victory in the two-day event by 12.4 seconds from Kiwi star Hayden Paddon. Masterton’s Richard Mason finished third overall.
Having won the Whangarei event three times since its inception in 2007, Paddon was the odds-on favourite to take another victory on the roads around Kaipara and Whangarei, but it wasn’t to be for the popular driver from Geraldine.
After 301.9 muddy kilometres of competition, both outright and Asia Pacific Rally Championship honours went to Atkinson as he secured his third APRC event win this season in the distinctive yellow Proton Satria Neo S2000. Adding to a successful weekend for the 30-year-old were maximum APRC points to further extend his lead in the 2011 APRC series with two rounds to go.
While Paddon piloted his CR Properties/Placemakers Subaru STI to collect maximum points in the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship standings, Mason maintained his lead in New Zealand’s top tier rally competition. At the same Mason earned APRC team trophy points for the SouEast Motor Kumho Team which had entered three cars.
Sunday’s eight stages were run in finer conditions than Saturday’s, but recent rain meant roads became increasingly muddy, particularly on the second run through the repeated loop of four stages.
Overnight Atkinson had a 6.2s advantage over Paddon, with Atkinson’s Proton team-mate Alister McRae starting the day in third. Mason was fourth after day one with fellow Kiwi contenders Emma Gilmour and Chris West rounding out the top six overall.
Atkinson clearly had the edge over Paddon today, although the margin was slight. Atkinson won four of the day’s stages from Paddon with the pair recording an identical time on the first run through Batley, just west of Bryderwyn. Paddon won the other three stages and they both secured new stage records as the rally went down to the wire.
Atkinson said: “Obviously to get the overall win as well as the Asia Pacific Rally Championship points is fantastic. It was good fun having a fight with Hayden. Our car was working really well today and I didn’t take any massive risks, but I definitely pushed hard all day. Obviously he’s a fast driver and very quick on these roads and we had to do our very best to hold him behind us.”
Paddon also enjoyed the event. “We’ve been pushing pretty hard this afternoon. The changes we made during the service break today certainly helped. Chris was doing an excellent job and out-drove us, but all-in-all it’s been a great weekend.”
Driving the SouEast Motor Kumho Team Mitsubishi rather than his usual BNT Subaru STI, Mason acknowledged that Paddon was always going to be hard to beat. “He’s been quick up here [on the Whangarei event] since day dot. Coming here with a new car it was unrealistic to expect to beat him here, so we never really had that on our radar. We knew that we didn’t have to win here to stay leading the New Zealand Rally Championship and we’ve been aiming for a title using our heads and it’s all going to plan as far as that’s concerned. As far as APRC goes, to be first Group N car home is really good for the SouEast Motor Kumho Team. They have moved from third to second in the APRC teams’ championship so that’s a good result for them and to be amongst the S2000 cars for that side of the event has been excellent.”
Former Rally Whangarei winner Chris West, from Christchurch, finished fourth overall and third in the NZRC standings while fellow NZRC top-runner Emma Gilmour came home fifth overall.
McRae’s day didn’t run quite to plan for the former World Rally Championship driver from Great Britain. “We had a small problem with the engine and backed off to drive it to the finish, so it’s a bit disappointing. But we had to think of the points for the championship and we’re second APRC so that’s good.”
Nelson’s Ben Hunt delivered another top-class performance in the Group N two-wheel-drive class. Hunt was one of four local drivers to be awarded APRC wildcard entries which saw the young Ford Fiesta driver start further up the running order and mix it up with numerous competitors in faster four-wheel-drive cars. For the fourth NZRC event in a row, Hunt secured maximum 2WD championship points to hold a commanding lead with just one round remaining.
Auckland’s Rob Wylie was the only driver from the NZRC Historic class to finish both days of the event in his Nissan 240RS and moves into the lead in this hotly-contested category.
The International Rally of Whangarei counted as the fourth rounds of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship and the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship. The event is run by the team from Rally New Zealand, with support from the NZRC co-sponsor Neil Allport Motorsports.
The APRC heads to Japan at the end of September and concludes in China in November. The NZRC concludes in Hawke’s Bay in August with three drivers – Mason, Paddon and Gilmour – still in contention to win.
More information can be found on the websites, www.fiaaprc.com and www.rallywhangarei.co.nz with detailed event results and NZRC championship points available from www.chrissport.co.nz.
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