Open 4WD championship mid-season update
The open 4WD is the shop window of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship and WRC star Hayden Paddon has certainly underlined his talents by dominating the class recently.
The Hyundai star began the year as the overwhelming favourite but a schedule forced to change due to weather events in the North Island and Paddon’s overseas commitments loomed as the biggest threat to him adding a seventh national title in 2023.
He got his campaign off to a perfect start – winning every stage and not putting a foot wrong in a dominant display at Otago back at the start of the season.
His Paddon Rallysport teammate Ari Pettigrew turned heads, when he built a sizeable advantage in second on the opening day and managed to nurse his Holden Barina AP4 home despite a blown headgasket on the second day to take second place overall.
Two-time national champion Ben Hunt got quicker as he blew away the off-season cobwebs and took third place in his Skoda New Zealand Fabia Rally 2.
Raana Horan, Emma Gilmour, Josh Marston and Robbie Stokes were others to collect a solid haul of points down south.
Paddon picked up where he left off when the championship moved north to Whangarei for Round 2, and he drove a nearly impeccable rally to bank another dominant win.
Behind him though the battle raged as Pettigrew again set fast stage times before rolling on the opening day while Hunt and Horan battled hard with impressive pace.
In the end Hunt had too much and took a confidence-boosting second place ahead of Horan, while Josh Marston survived a dramatic Sunday to score some more points.
With Paddon missing the third round in South Canterbury, it was all-on to score a rare round win.
Hunt was brilliant early and opened up a handy lead while Pettigrew made a mistake and then broke an axle to drop time.
Horan kept the pressure on but it looked like Hunt would take the win late in the day. But with the chance of putting the Championship destiny in his own hands by winning the power stage as well as the rally, Hunt went for it and made a small mistake that proved costly.
He slid off the road on the power stage and lost it all. Horan inherited the lead and calmly secured a second career win while Pettigrew recovered strongly for third.
Stephen Barker, sitting in for team owner Todd Bawden, did a nice job for fourth while Marston picked up points again ahead of Haydn Mackenzie, who battled hard to get to the end.
So, with the championship evenly poised heading into the final two rounds, there is plenty to play for at the Daybreaker and Bay of Plenty events.
Paddon holds a narrow lead of five points over Horan. Hunt is 21 points off the lead while Martson (26) and Pettigrew (28) are still in with a chance, particularly if Paddon runs into a drama somewhere.