Hayden Paddon and John Kennard launch their 2016 FIA World Rally Championship campaign at the most famous and challenging rally of them all – Rallye Monte-Carlo.
Paddon and Kennard are the first New Zealand driver and co-driver pairing to contest the iconic rally, which takes place along the French Riviera in the Principality of Monaco and southeast France from 21 to 24 January.
Paddon, originally from Geraldine, and Kennard, from Blenheim, contest all 14 WRC rounds this year, making it their biggest season of international competition yet. This New Zealand motorsport history-making opportunity stems from their signing of a three-year contract with Hyundai Motorsport – the team for which they have driven since June 2014 – following the successes of their 2015 season.
Paddon is under no illusions of the difficulties which lie ahead on the snowy, icy, mountainous Monte Carlo rally route.
“I would rate this one of the most challenging events on the calendar due to the wintry conditions we expect,” says the Europe-based 28-year-old. “Given we have not competed in this rally before and have much to learn about the tyre choices, potential stage conditions and narrow, winding roads, our goal is to use this event to learn for the future. It’s a way to get our new season with Hyundai Motorsport started and the main goal is to finish.”
While Paddon and Kennard haven’t competed at Monte-Carlo before, they have made the most of two earlier opportunities to complete the controlled speed pre-event reconnaissance sessions for the rally.
Paddon explains: “We have done recce twice before, so this helps a little that we have some base notes. However, conditions often change a lot between recce and the rally and the job of our gravel-ice crew [which drive the rally route before the roads are closed for competitors] is more important than ever here. The biggest challenge during the rally will be translating their information of things I have not seen before and adapting to it as best I can.”
For Kennard, who’s in charge of delivering the detailed pace notes of the rally route so Paddon can visualise the road ahead for maximum speed, the complexity of the conditions and information provided by the gravel-ice crew adds other considerations.
“For me the biggest challenge with Monte so far has been preparing the notes we have from recce in 2014 and 2015 with enough space for the ice note crew to add the very large amount of information they sometimes need to,” Kennard says. “This has meant rewriting the notes we’ll re-use with less lines per page, so there’s more room between. So the longest of the stages, at over 55km, has expanded from 25 to 42 pages! Also, as the time is often quite limited to transfer this info from the ice note copy into my notes, it’s the only event where I’m likely to end up using a copied set of notes on the stages, something I’ve never done before.”
Paddon rates every special stage of the 16-stage, 377 competitive kilometre route as challenging.
“You can often start on the valley floor where it’s dry, but then approaching the mountain tops or shades areas on the same stage can be complete ice.
“Tyres make a big difference here. We have the option of two compounds of slick tyres, a snow tyre and a studded tyre. Often we will be on what is essentially a compromise tyre and you have to do the calculations based on info from our gravel-ice crew of what tyre will be best. You might have a 20km stage that is 17km dry and 3km snow and ice, but if you take the slick for the dry section, you will lose 30 sec/km on the ice section, so those are the considerations you’re weighing up all the time. You may also consider spilt tyre decisions with studded tyres on opposite corners of the car on slicks, as you may want a different choice for different stages within the same loop.”
Both Paddon and Kennard are excited to get their 2016 season of competition underway.
“I’m really excited for the year ahead and continuing our development on all levels,” Paddon says. “In this game we are always looking for improvements in both the car and myself and are continuing to improve my physical and mental training routines. I’m more ready than ever and have step-by-step goals for the year that we will be working hard towards meeting.”
Kennard says: “For me the break at home has been outside as much as possible, either in the vineyard keeping on top of things, or on my mountain bike, so at least I came back to the European winter fitter and with a bit of a tan!”
Rallye Monte-Carlo gets underway on Thursday evening with the official start outside the Monte-Carlo Casino followed immediately by two night stages on the way towards Gap, the service park location. Friday’s route has two repeated runs of three stages taking in the iconic scenery within the Hautes Alpes and Isère regions. Competitors return to Monaco on Saturday via two passes of the marathon 51.55km Lardier et Valença – Faye and the classic Sisteron – Thoard. Sunday’s final leg, as is traditional, runs in the Alpes Maritimes mountains above Monaco and features the legendary and breath-taking Col de Turini.
Paddon’s Hyundai Motorsport team-mates Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo will debut the new generation Hyundai i20 WRC in Monte-Carlo while Paddon and Kennard will contest the Hyundai i20 WRC car they used last season.
“We have all been heavily involved with testing the new car and John and I start with the new car in Sweden,” says Paddon. “On such an event like Monte-Carlo, being in a car we know well will help us learn the event better so we’re entirely comfortable with this team decision.”
Kennard adds: “With the new generation i20 WRC from Sweden on, this season has the potential to be our best yet, so there’s absolutely no doubt I’m really looking forward to it. Some challenging work ahead of us with 14 rallies this season, but some awesome fun too!”