Top Kiwi rally driver Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard have secured a hard-fought fifth place at Rally Mexico which finished on Sunday afternoon (Central Standard Time), and Paddon departs Central America even more determined to up his game on his favoured gravel surface in coming World Rally Championship events.
In what was Paddon’s 50th WRC start, the Mexican rally delivered typical tough, hot conditions. The New Zealanders had a number of challenges to overcome including two broken suspension arms, mechanical issues creating by the high temperatures and heavily-gravelled stages.
Coming into Sunday’s final two stages, they held a relatively comfortable fifth place, but needed to balance speed and caution to ensure they safely reached the finish. Paddon’s pace through Sunday morning’s monster 80 km stage earned him a top three stage time and he carried that assurance into the final test, the points-earning power stage, to again set the third quickest time and earn his first power stage bonus point.
The 28-year-old professional rally driver said it was definitely a character-building weekend. “We’ve had our issues and all in all, it’s good to come home and achieve our goal of a top five result. It just goes to show you’ve got to be patient on these sort of rallies when things aren’t going quite right.
“There’s still a lot of positives to take forward. We had some good times; we were in the top three quite often but at the same time there’s still some things to work on for the future.”
Paddon’s top five finish made it two Hyundai i20 WRC cars inside the top five in Mexico with team-mate Dani Sordo and co-driver Marc Marti securing a well-deserved third place, making it a hat-trick of podium finishes for Hyundai Motorsport in the opening three WRC rounds.
Prior to Mexico, Paddon and Sordo were equal fourth on the WRC drivers’ championship leader-board with 18 points each. Now Sordo holds fourth place with 33 points and Paddon is in fifth with 29 points.
“Overall we scored good strong points here. There’s a good fight going in the championship within the top five and I’m sure that’s going to go on season long. We’re going to work hard now before Argentina and the following gravel rallies to get closer to the front and put a bit more pressure on those guys.”
Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “It is a good feeling to finish with two cars inside the top-five – and to score a hat-trick of podiums with Dani in third place. We have now seen each of our driver crews on the podium this year – and we’re only three events into the season. The results are good but they don’t necessarily tell the story of what has been an incredibly tough rally. We’ve had the longest stage of the season – the 80km run this morning – as well as tough conditions, which have really put the New Generation i20 WRC under pressure. We’ve learned a lot about the car this weekend with some room for improvement but a generally satisfactory performance.
“The cars have survived a difficult rally, which can only give us optimism for the rest of the season. Well done to Dani and Marc for their fantastic podium, Hayden and John for their fifth place, and to the entire team for a professional job in the circumstances. Of course, it’s a shame that Thierry couldn’t complete the rally but he’s feeling determined to fight back in Argentina.
“We said we’d be able to evaluate the performance of our New Generation i20 WRC more accurately after the first three rounds, and with podiums in Monte-Carlo, Sweden and now Mexico, we have to target the top-three in all remaining events of the season. It’s an ambitious target but I think we’ve shown we have what it takes, even in the harshest of rallies.”
Paddon and Kennard have a break from WRC competition – but not their training and preparation – for seven weeks until Rally Argentina running 21-24 April. Mexico, Argentina and Australia are the current three long-haul rallies of the predominantly Europe-based championship.
Rally Mexico Overall Final Classification
1. J. M. Latvala / M. Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) 4:25:57.4
2. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +1:05.0
3. D. Sordo / M. Martí (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +3:37.9
4. M. Østberg / O. Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +5:36.4
5. H. Paddon / J. Kennard (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +6:22.6
6. O. Tanak / R. Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +9:59.5
7. M. Prokop / J. Tomanek (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +12:58.5
8. L. Bertelli / S. Scattolin (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +14:09.6
9. T. Suninen / M. Markkula (Škoda Fabia R5) +18:01.8
10. V. Gorban / V. Korsia (MINI Countryman WRC) +32:37.3
2016 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
S. Ogier 77 points / M. Østberg 39 / A. Mikkelsen 33 / D. Sordo 33 / H. Paddon 29 / J. M. Latvala 27 / O. Tanak 24 / T. Neuville 15 / S. Lefebvre 10 / H. Solberg 6 / M. Prokop 6 / E. Evans 6 / C. Breen 4 / L. Bertelli 4 / T. Suninen 3 / E. Lappi 2 / A. Kremer 1 / K. Meeke 1 / V. Gorban 1
2016 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
Volkswagen Motorsport 97 points / Hyundai Motorsport 64 / M-Sport World Rally Team 43 / Volkswagen Motorsport II 30 / DMACK World Rally Team 26 / Hyundai Motorsport N 24 / Jipocar Czech National Team 6