Hayden Paddon’s domination of this year’s Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship has been clear for all to see.
The ex-WRC star became a five-time national champion with his victory at Hawke’s Bay last weekend, where he won every stage and took a commanding win by nearly four minutes.
Again, Paddon set the benchmark for others to aim for, and making the best of that opportunity and reaching for the stars was Robbie Stokes.
After a horror season to date in which he had only seven points to his name, Stokes was clearly the ‘best of the rest’ in his Ford Fiesta AP4, finishing in second place on all of the rally’s six stages.
He was well ahead of Raana Horan (Skoda) and Ben Hunt (Subaru), with he and sister, Amy, also taking their first NZRC podium finish.
“We are rapt to have achieved second overall, with second fastest times in all six stages! We are beyond excited to finally have our first NZRC outright podium finish… hopefully there are more to come!” Stokes said afterwards.
Another youngster to impress was Ari Pettigrew, who had his first drive of a four-wheel drive, turbocharged car, the Ralliart NZ Mitsubishi Mirage AP4.
Pettigrew certainly didn’t set the world on fire with his pace as some overheating issues hampered his progress, but a couple of ninth fastest stage time showed that there is plenty more to come from the Paddon protégé.
Also proving that consistency really is the key, Dylan Thomson has moved up to sixth in the overall championship race, while winning the FIA two-wheel drive championship for a third time.
Thomson’s Ford Fiesta ST is far from being the quickest car in any rally field, but his ability to set consistent stage times proves that young drivers taking the right path are more than capable of getting results.
Even a new co-driver, Ben Trevelyan, didn’t slow Thomson down.
Regan Ross’ hopes of a top three championship finish took a blow when he went off the road on the second stage, but he remains third in the NZRC, equal with Raana Horan.
One thing that was made a little clearer at Hawke’s Bay, though, is that the day of the Subaru WRX being an outright contender could be numbered.
While Ben Hunt is a clear second in the NZRC, he was consistently beaten by the AP4 and R5 cars of Paddon, Stokes and Horan on the day, on stages that weren’t conducive to the heavy Subaru’s liking.
Like Thomson in his Fiesta though, you first need to finish to get the result, and Hunt continues down that path with little fuss.
Only one round of the championship remains now, with Rally Coromandel to wrap up the NZRC in early September.
After that, all eyes will turn to the Battle of Jack’s Ridge.