Hayden Paddon has pulled off one of the most incredible drives ever seen on New Zealand’s gravel roads, coming from behind to win the Otago Rally by 2.5 seconds in a 40-year-old Ford BDA Escort.
The 28-year-old Geraldine driver, who is home on a break between events in the World Rally Championship, was seven seconds behind Phil Campbell going into the final 16km stage through Kuri Bush, Dunedin on Sunday afternoon.
Paddon’s car was a full 28 years older than Campbell’s Mitsubishi Evo 9 and he and co-driver John Kennard were two seconds slower than Campbell in the first 5km of the final stage.
Remarkably, Paddon then clawed back 12 seconds over the final 10km of the stage to take out both the Otago Rally and Otago Classic Rally titles.
“We came here for fun, we never came here chasing a win like that, but as it got close going into those last couple of stages we definitely gave it everything,” Paddon said.
Campbell and co-driver Venita Fabbro were 16.4 seconds ahead of Paddon after a tough first day that saw many of the potential challengers for the rally running into trouble.
Campbell had extended that lead to as much as 30 seconds heading into the Sunday afternoon stage but it was not enough.
It was a remarkable return to form for Paddon, who was coming off a nightmare Rally Argentina where he crashed into spectators 600m into stage nine of the WRC event.
“It’s a bonus for us. We haven’t won anything in the last 18 months since we’ve been in the WRC so hopefully this will give us that boost we need to start turning things around this season,” he said.
With the win, Paddon’s Escort becomes the first two-wheel-drive car to win a round of New Zealand Rally Championship since the Mazda RX7 of Neil Allport and Rodger Freeth won the Auckland round in May 1987.
Paddon said it felt fantastic to race in the car on roads that he loved, in front of the biggest crowds he had seen in the event.
“You’re talking 40-year-old technology so you’ve got to get used to it a bit, but it still goes beautifully.
“There’s a lot of sideways in it so it’s plenty of fun to drive.”
Among those watching on were some of Paddon’s friends and family and his crew was made up of people from South Canterbury who had all played a part in getting him to the WRC.
“To do it in front of all of them was really nice,” he said.