Hayden Paddon and John Kennard face new challenges at this week’s FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) event on the French island of Corsica.
Dubbed the ‘rally of 10,000 corners’, Tour de Corse is renowned for its tight, twisty mountain roads and never-ending sequences of turns. The 1-4 October event sees the French WRC round return to the island after seven years of absence from the Alsace location where Paddon and Kennard have competed twice previously.
Fresh from his fourth top-five finish of the season in Australia, Paddon has been preparing for the French event with an intensive schedule of testing with the Hyundai Motorsport team and additional coaching to improve the specialised skills he needs to be more competitive on tarmac rallies.
Paddon is not underestimating the event which is a throwback to classic endurance rallies, featuring only nine special stages across the three days with and seven stages exceeding 35km in length.
“It will be a very challenging rally,” Paddon said while en route to Corsica. “It’s no exaggeration to call it the rally of 10,000 corners; it’s a very twisty, non-stop rally made particularly challenging this year with the unique but long itinerary. Being on an island, the weather can be quite changeable particularly as the stages climb high into the mountains, but the biggest challenge is that most of the stages are around 40km long, and the twisty roads here means those are 40 long kilometres.”
During the pre-event test with the team, Paddon was happy to find some new tarmac settings compared to those he used in Germany and get more miles on tarmac.
“The biggest thing for me is to adapt my driving style, and after a recent day at a racing school and two days training with ex-WRC driver Nicolas Bernardi, I feel I now have a much better understanding for the technique required.
“I have learnt the biggest aspect to tarmac driving is the application and use of the brakes. This plays such an important role that when done correctly it then makes the steering and throttle side of things easy.
“In our most recent test last week, I felt I made a big gain. While I have been able to develop this quite well in recent tests, doing it in the rally when it’s not yet natural is another story. Testing and the rally are two completely different things, but we have to start somewhere, so we will have to see how it goes this week.”
Paddon and Kennard are noted for their ability to quickly pick up new stages, being used to New Zealand’s one pass reconnaissance for making pace notes.
“This ability will help to some extent. As this event has not been on the WRC calendar for quite some time, the majority of the route is new for everyone. This event will certainly be the most crucial of the year for the role of the co-driver and pace notes. With so many corners and long stages, it’s impossible to remember the stages as we can sometimes on events we have done before, so it’s a matter of writing really good notes during recce, then trusting and driving to them 100 per cent in the rally.”
Paddon’s aims are to try and show some improvement throughout the rally. “My goal is to learn as much as we can and improve my tarmac driving technique. We’ll try and bring home a top ten finish. There are a lot of tarmac specialists here for this event, with 17 WRC entries in total, so the competition will be hotter than ever.”
Paddon and Kennard pilot their #20 Hyundai i20 WRC car in Corsica for what will be their tenth WRC event and second tarmac rally of the season, joining three Hyundai Motorsport team-mates for the third time this season. The team line-up returns to normal after a slight reshuffle in Australia, with Thierry Neuville (#7 Hyundai i20 WRC) and Dani Sordo (#8 Hyundai i20 WRC) again representing the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team. Paddon is joined in the Hyundai Mobis World Rally team line-up by Kevin Abbring (#10 Hyundai i20 WRC).
France’s WRC round was held on the stunning island of Corsica from 1973 to 2008. The western coast town of Ajaccio will host Thursday’s evening start and Sunday’s afternoon finish. Friday’s route comprises three stages: SS1 29.12km, SS2 43.69km, SS3 36.43km. SS2 and SS3 are rerun on Saturday morning as SS4 and SS5, before a massive 48.46km SS6 ends the longest day of racing. Sunday sees drivers tackle the 36.71km SS7 and 41.46km SS8 before the rally concludes with a sizeable 16.74km power stage at Ajaccio’s Agosta beach.
Hyundai Motorsport team principal Michel Nandan commented: “With a move to Corsica, an historic rally with a big reputation, Rallye de France is going to be a challenging event because the format is quite different from what we are used to. We have a central service park in Corte but the drivers will sleep every night in another base, so from a logistics point it requires an extra effort. The weather will play an important role, so it is going to be a difficult job to get the right forecast and make the right tyre choices and car settings.
“We are participating again with four cars, with our test driver Kevin Abbring joining Thierry, Dani and Hayden. He has experience here, coming third in the European Rally Championship (ERC) round here last year. Both Thierry and Dani have won rallies there before – they know the character of the roads so it should be easy for them to adapt to the new stages and it will be good to see them challenging in the Hyundai i20 WRCs. We will push for as many points as possible with the objective to retain our second place in the Manufacturers’ Championship.”