Kiwi rally drivers Hayden Paddon and John Kennard have secured their fifth top-five finish in a World Rally Championship event this year with a push to lift their performance even higher on the final day of the Tour de Corse.
Starting the final day of the French WRC event dubbed ‘rally of 10,000 corners’ on the island of Corsica in seventh position overall, the New Zealanders leapfrogged two positions up the leader-board on the rally’s penultimate stage. Their time for the 41.46 km twisting and turning tarmac test equalled that of rally winner Jari-Matti Latvala and was just 3.7 sec off their Hyundai Motorsport team-mate Dani Sordo who won the stage.
“I’m really happy with how the weekend’s progressed,” said Paddon. “Having been 15th after the first stage, we would never have thought that we’d get into the top five come the end of the rally.”
The rally hasn’t been without its challenges as the French WRC round returned to Corsica for the first time in seven years. It was Paddon and Kennard’s debut on the iconic asphalt rally, plus extreme weather conditions on Thursday night meant the cancellation Friday’s special stage two and its repeat run as stage four on Saturday – significant on a rally with only nine scheduled stages compared to the usual 19 or 20 special stages.
Earlier in the event, particularly with the impact of the weather making the roads very slippery, Paddon focused on surviving and getting through the reduced number of stages. An eighth quickest time on the second stage confirmed his position as tenth overall at the end of Friday. On Saturday’s reduced itinerary of just two special stages, a seventh quickest stage time bought Paddon into seventh overall after a solid day’s work in changeable conditions.
“It’s been very tough,” Paddon said. “Obviously some very trying conditions early on, and then it’s been slowly improving for the rest of the rally. We’ve been able to show some good progress from where we were in Germany. From this we can take a lot of positive signs.”
Prior to the event, Paddon spent a day at a circuit racing school and two days training with ex-WRC driver Nicolas Bernardi in an effort to improve his performance on tarmac events, given his relative lack of experience on this surface
“We’re much closer to our team-mates – okay, to be the leading Hyundai here is a nice surprise, but the most important thing is the progress we’re showing on tarmac. We’ve been able to put the driving techniques I learnt before this event into practice and we can see the benefits of that.
“Obviously it still needs a lot of fine tuning and a lot of work before it becomes more natural in the car, but we’re heading in the right direction.
“It’s given us something now to work on for Spain which is our next rally on tarmac in three weeks. With a day on gravel in Spain as well, I think we can be a lot more competitive and try to be in the top five, at least, again. My confidence is good at the moment and we’ve got a lot of good things to look forward to.”
Paddon’s top five result has moved him into eighth place on the WRC drivers’ championship points table.
For the Hyundai Motorsport team where Paddon and Kennard compete under the colours of the Hyundai Mobis World Rally Team, their team-mate Dani Sordo claimed the team’s 20th stage win of the season and secured seventh place. Kevin Abbring’s impressive Tour de Corse performance unfortunately came to an abrupt end with an off in SS8 which forced him to retire from fifth place, and Thierry Neuville finished in 23rd after crashing out on Friday.
Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “There are some positives to be found from our first ever Tour de Corse. This has been a tough rally for everyone with demanding driving conditions. After the disrupted opening two days, we had three stages today so there was still a lot to play for. Hayden and Dani both pushed hard today and were rewarded for their efforts, moving into fifth and seventh respectively. Thierry, too, put the disappointment of Friday behind him to find improvements. Unfortunately, it wasn’t such a good day for Kevin after he went off the road in SS8, ending his impressive performance. He has made a lot of people take notice of him this weekend, and I’m sure that will really help him for his next rally in Wales GB next month. We can leave Corsica satisfied but we’ve relinquished second place in the Championship by one point, so the battle will be back on in Spain.”
The Tour de Corse result has further intensified the battle for second in the WRC manufacturers’ championship with just one point separating Citroën in second and Hyundai in third. With two rallies remaining in the 2015 WRC, it will be a battle to the every end, something that the team relishes.
From Corsica, Paddon and Kennard head to Spain to test their Hyundai i20 WRC car with the team on Tuesday and then compete in an Italian tarmac event, Rally Legend, the following weekend, before the 23-25 October running of Rally Spain.