Kennard celebrates WRC achievements in Finland

John Kennard, Hayden Paddon’s co-driver since 2005, will mark two significant achievements when the pair of New Zealanders line-up for next week’s Rally Finland – it’s 30 years since Kennard’s first World Rally Championship event as a co-driver and it’s his 50th WRC start.

Nowadays a co-owner of a vineyard in New Zealand’s famed Marlborough wine region, Kennard says he started out in club and national events as a driver. He describes the opportunity to co-drive in the 1985 WRC Rally Finland as being thrown in the deep end.

“I met Brent and Shirley Rawstron back in 1984 when I was helping the organisers of Mainfreight Rally New Zealand and when the Rawstrons wanted to ship their own car to Europe to contest a number of events – having got the taste of some classic European rallies in a leased car – I went along with them to do the organising and another guy, Roger, was co-driving. However when Roger became struck by a bout of lovesickness not long before Brent was due to do the 1000 Lakes Rally, Brent said why don’t you come and do it with me?

“Not only that, but there was a small rally a couple of weeks before 1000 Lakes and Brent said why don’t you go and drive in that too? So this guy is trusting me with his car that we’re going to do the 1000 Lakes in two weeks’ time and to co-drive for him when I’d never co-driven in my life! That was pretty cool and really formed our relationship which continues today as partners in Vicarage Lane Wines.”

With the assistance of some copied pace notes – which came via a friend from the late Henri Toivonen, a famed works rally driver in the 1980s – and the relative luxury of open reconnaissance of the rally route for at least two weeks, Kennard assisted Rawstron complete the 1985 1000 Lakes Rally as the top non-Scandinavian privateers which won them some serious prize money.

“WRC events in those days were enormous,” Kennard recalls. “Every stage was different and there were 45 or 47 of them, spread out geographically and hugely long days. With open recce, some drivers would have memorised some of the stages they really wanted to push on. They were incredibly different to today’s events.”

Back home, Kennard co-drove for those seeking co-drivers with pace notes’ experience with his best result of third place in Rally New Zealand achieved in 1988, when it was a drivers’ championship only round, alongside the late Malcolm Stewart in an ex-works Audi.

“I was spending a bit of time in Europe, but also worked as the event manager for the Silver Fern Rally in 1989 when it marked the 21st anniversary of Rally New Zealand. Moving to the UK in 1990, I did a few events there and in Europe as a co-driver through various Kiwi connections. Then came a role with Co-ord Sport, essentially a Ralliart Mitsubishi team, which provided support for Kenjiro Shinozuka’s extensive rallying activities. The first event I did with them was as the logistic coordinator for the ’92 Safari Rally.”

In the years when the Safari event wasn’t part of the world championship, Shinozuka and Team Toyota Europe were the only major teams contesting it.

“One of my favourite aspects of this time was sitting in the passenger seat of the helicopter which flew about half a kilometre in front of Shinozuka on the stages – they were open roads – so I could radio any upcoming hazards like crowds, cattle or whatever to the car. This lead to two things – I got my helicopter licence and a call from Prodrive to help the Subaru World Rally Team on the Safari in ’95.”

Kennard delivered the logistical nous Prodrive was looking for and he worked with the team on WRC and some Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) events until 2000.

“There was no time for co-driving in any of the major events, just a few fun ones. After buying the vineyard with Brent in 2002, I had a contract with Mitsubishi UK to run a team in the US. That contract was meant to be for three years, but the team was so good that we won absolutely everything in the first year so the contract was terminated! I headed back to the vineyard and with Brent bringing European drivers in for the Classic Rally of Otago in his BDA, I kept up that link to rallying helping with these projects.

“Then at the end of 2005 Hayden and his father Chris turned up. After some solid results in South Island rallies, Hayden was preparing to contest the New Zealand Rally Championship for the first time in 2006 and they asked if I wanted to do something with them. While I didn’t particularly like working with youngsters, as soon as I got in the car with Hayden, then aged 18, I realised he was different. Mature and sensible for someone so young. I’ve been in cars testing with Carlos [Sainz] and Colin [McRae] and he reminded me of them. Hayden knew what he wanted and had a lot of talent, so I said I’d carry on as his co-driver and here we are.”

Forty-two of Kennard’s WRC starts have been alongside Paddon and he is proud to have played a key role in helping Paddon achieve the success he’s had to date, particularly this year’s second place at Rally Sardinia with Hyundai Motorsport.

“As long as Hayden’s happy with what we’re doing, I’ll carry on,” says the 56-year-old. “I still love it; I love being competitive at this level and it doesn’t matter when it happens, it’s not going to be easy to retire. It’s a lifestyle you get used to – living life in approximately three week chunks around each WRC event. I also try and get to as many tests with the team as I can; I can base myself at our house in Finland, so there’s a lot of time away from New Zealand.”

Turning to the upcoming Finnish Rally, Kennard says it’s almost like a home event for him, given he spends so much time there with his Finnish wife Satu Lappalainen.

“The character of the stages reminds me of some key roads like New Zealand like Kuri Bush in Otago. It will be special to mark my 50th WRC event here in 2015.”

Hayden Paddon pays credit to Kennard and the help he’s provided over the years. “The partnership with John can’t be underestimated in terms of helping me with every stage of my career to date. Finland this year will be a pretty big event for John. Thirty years is a long time to be involved in the sport and to have your 50th start on the same event is a big milestone. Of course it would be nice if we can give him a wee present and have a good result!”

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