Hayden Paddon and John Kennard hold a commanding three-minute lead after day one of the Rally of Otago.
The former WRC driver topped each of the day’s seven stages, at times by nearly one minute, to sit 3m27.4s ahead of Dylan Turner and Malcolm Read in their Audi S1 AP4.
Turner is engaged in a fierce tussle with the Ford Fiesta AP4 of Robbie Stokes.
Stokes was electric in the day’s opening stage on Burma Road and was third in the overall standings.
A strong stage six performance then elevated Stokes to second. However, he could only muster 33rd overall in the short tarmac super stage in central Dunedin, which ended the day.
Thus, Turner moved up to provisional second but is just 2.5s ahead of Stokes.
Ben Hunt is a further two-second adrift in fourth, setting up an exciting final day in the podium fight.
Local driver Emma Gilmour was the best behind Paddon for the first two stages. Unfortunately, her efforts were undone when the throttle on her Suzuki Swift turned stubborn and wouldn’t respond.
Gilmour retired from the remainder of the day with no word on whether she will be out in action tomorrow. Either way, her hopes of a podium finish have vanished.
One of the more intriguing battles is in the Classic (1701cc and over) class, which Derek Ayson of Gore currently leads.
A former winner of the Classic rally, Ayson is 21.8s ahead of Deane Buist – not a bad return for Ayson, who has been away from the driver’s seat for two years.
A legend on two wheels, Arron Slight, made his rally debut in the Classic category, getting behind the wheel of a Ford Escort RS1800.
Slight got some practice driving on gravel earlier in the week going up and down his driveway. Still, today was his first competitive rally outing. He is currently 14th in class, 8m59s behind leader Ayson.
Another superbike-rally convert in action today was Avalon Biddle, who is ninth in the GPA 4WD class driving a Subaru Magnum H6.
“It’s been a huge, huge learning curve,” Biddle said. “Everything is new to me and I’ve had very little time on four wheels, especially going sideways.”
“From the beginning of the day until now, I have improved heaps. I feel a lot more confident in the car and am loving the gravel roads.
“They are so much fun getting sideways into and out of the corners.”
Seven stages lie in wait for the field tomorrow, taking them south of Dunedin and towards the finish at Brighton Domain.
|FIA Group N||Dylan Thomson|
|Open Class 2WD||Ari Pettigrew|
|Rally Challenge 4WD||Andy Martin|
|Rally Challenge 2WD||Tim Smith|
|Classic (0-1300cc)||Steve Cox|
|Classic (1301-1700cc)||Tim Smith|
|Classic (1701cc +)||Derek Ayson|
|Allcomers (1301-1600cc)||Tim Mackersy|
|Allcomers (1601cc +)||Robert McCallum|
|Allcomers 4WD||Andy Martin|
|GPA 4WD||Matthew Wright|
|Group NZ 4WD||Todd Bawden|
Main Image: Terry Marshall/Euan Cameron Photography