NZ Performance Car - - Contents - WORDS AND PHOTO: STEVE RITCHE

Fifty-two cars, 18 spe­cial stages, and 277km are what made up the 2018 International Rally of Whangarei. This year marked the 30th an­niver­sary of the event, which was round two of the New Zealand Rally Cham­pi­onship (NZRC) and the first round of the Asia-Pa­cific Rally Cham­pi­onship (APRC). With last year’s win­ner of the NZRC, An­drew Hawkeswood, not con­test­ing the cham­pi­onship and third-placed Sloan Cox head­ing off to Eu­rope to com­pete in ral­ly­cross, it opened the door for oth­ers to step up. That be­ing said, Hay­den Pad­don is back in the mix this year and will be con­test­ing all but one round of the six-round cham­pi­onship. The field of international APRC cars was slightly sparse, with only four cars en­tered into the cham­pi­onship, one of which was home-grown boy Mike Young.

Kick­ing off the event on Fri­day un­der lights at the 1km long Pohe Is­land Spe­cial Stage (SS) was first man on the gravel Hay­den Pad­don with stand-in co-driver Mal­colm Pe­den read­ing the notes. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the pair were the fastest on both passthroughs, clock­ing iden­ti­cal times on each of 55.6s. Most of the field took the more cau­tious ap­proach, know­ing that there was an­other 275km of hard-out stages ahead of them over the fol­low­ing two days.

The eight Satur­day stages si­t­u­ated north of the city were run over four dif­fer­ent roads in the morn­ing then again in the af­ter­noon. Dry con­di­tions meant that ev­ery­one was on the same play­ing field and could just drive hard out. As ex­pected, times on the af­ter­noon runs came down sig­nif­i­cantly with the gravel hav­ing been swept aside from the morn­ing runs. Hay­den Pad­don dom­i­nated the day, win­ning all eight stages to fin­ish the day 4min ahead of sec­ond­placed Ben Hunt. Emma Gil­mour was an­other minute be­hind, hav­ing been held up by the limp­ing Mit­subishi Mi­rage of Matt and Ni­cole Sum­mer­field, who had bro­ken their front sus­pen­sion dur­ing SS4. SS4 was also the scene of a crash that put an end to the rally for Richie Dal­ton and Dale Moscat’s Ford Fi­esta. They were lucky to es­cape ma­jor in­jury when the Fi­esta ploughed into a ditch, hav­ing over­shot a cor­ner due to fog cre­at­ing poor vis­i­bil­ity. The stage was duly can­celled, and the re­main­ing cars’ times were ad­justed ac­cord­ingly. With a 5.30pm start time, head­light lu­mens would light the fi­nal stage known as ‘He­lena’, a 15km run start­ing in He­lena Bay and then wind­ing through the coun­try­side to fin­ish 10 min­utes from State High­way 1. By the time the stage fin­ished, the num­ber of day-one ca­su­al­ties had risen and in­cluded front-run­ner Mike Young, whose car suf­fered over­heat­ing on SS5, forc­ing an end to his week­end. Un­der APRC reg­u­la­tions, cars are not al­lowed to re-en­ter the rally once they have re­tired.

Sun­day saw com­peti­tors move south of the city, only to be greeted by a weather front rolling in, cre­at­ing some damp driv­ing con­di­tions. With three stages to con­test twice over be­fore

Ben Hunt’s Subaru WRX had un­der­gone a weight-loss pro­gramme dur­ing the off sea­son, and the new­found pace paid div­i­dends with a sec­ond-place fin­ish

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