New Zealand’s top rally driver Hayden Paddon always knew that Rallye Monte-Carlo wasn’t going to be easy to learn, and so it’s proved during the Kiwi’s debut at the iconic rally which opens the World Rally Championship season.
On Thursday (European time), Paddon and co-driver John Kennard started strongly. Their times on the two night stages – seventh and fourth quickest respectively – saw the pair hold fifth overall on the leader-board overnight. The icy mountain roads bit back on Friday morning as Paddon’s Hyundai i20 WRC car slid on an ice patch and clipped a tree with the rear of the car, causing extensive damage to the left rear wheel. The Kiwis had to retire, meaning they missed the experience of Friday’s six-stage itinerary.
Of the low speed incident, Paddon said: “The morning didn’t go at all how we planned. We just got caught out by a patch of ice that pitched the rear of the car into a tree, pulling off the rear-left wheel. There was no way we could continue so we had little choice but to retire. We knew it would be a rally of learning but we weren’t expecting our first full day to be over so soon. That’s the nature of this rally, I guess.”
Re-joining on Saturday morning under Rally 2 regulations in an unfamiliar 76th place, Paddon and Kennard were able to enjoy a series of positives including seventh fastest, fifth fastest and even a second fastest stage time. While their overall place of 31st on the leader-board means they’re out of contention for any championship points, a great deal of constructive and confidence-boosting progress has been made.
Of Saturday’s five special stages which included two runs through the monster 51km Lardier Et Valenca – Faye test, Paddon said: “This morning we were determined to start fresh and put yesterday behind us, but it was an equally tough start. Obviously we’re here to learn as much as we can and take as much as we can from the experience.
“The first stage (SS9) was difficult with all the patchy ice, a lot more than we expected. Then SS10 in the snow, we spent more time going backwards than actually going forwards. I don’t think I’ve ever spun so many times in one stage, but that’s part of our learning process.
“It’s good to get through all the stages and get some necessary miles and experience of this rally. We’ve learnt a lot today with tyre decisions, car setup and road conditions.
“We’ve had a couple of top five times and one stage when we were second fastest – it was nice to be part of the team’s first 1-2-3 in stage in SS12 and I had a lot of fun both in that stage and SS13.
“So there’s still positives to take out of it, but all in all, it’s a pretty steep learning curve here for the first time and we’ll try and continue that (learning) again tomorrow on the last three stages.”
Paddon’s Hyundai Motorsport team-mates Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo – both in the new generation Hyundai i20 WRC car – have put the team into a provisional podium position at the end of the penultimate day. Neuville secured the first-ever stage wins for the new Hyundai rally cars as he and Sordo – with Paddon’s help – dominated the day’s final stages with 1-2-3 in SS12 and 1-2 in SS13. Neuville ended the day third overall with Sordo inside the top-eight.
Rallye Monte-Carlo concludes on Sunday with three stages where drivers will tackle the legendary Col de Turini and look to end the first rally of 2016 in style in Monaco.