GRAVEL SPRAY IN THE REI
2018 INTERNATIONAL RALLY OF WHANGAREI
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