Paddon aims to step performance up in Spain

| Photographer Credit: Vettas Media

New Zealand’s leading rally driver Hayden Paddon returns to the Spanish round of the World Rally Championship with co-driver John Kennard aiming to take his performance up another step.

With this week’s announcement of a three year, full-time contract with Hyundai Motorsport confirming Paddon as one to watch in the WRC, he and Kennard tackle the 22-25 October running of RallyRACC Catalunya – Costa Daurada (Rally de España) determined to continue improving their performance on tarmac stages.

The penultimate round of the 2015 WRC season, Rally de España is unique in that it combines primarily gravel stages on Friday with high speed asphalt stages on the following two days. It’s also unique for Paddon and Kennard as being the only WRC event they have contested twice in a WRC car, having made their WRC car debut here in 2013. They also secured their first WRC stage win in Spain last year in their Hyundai i20 WRC car.

Gaining that all-important experience on each WRC rally makes a significant difference for any rally driver pairing and Paddon is keen to take advantage of his increasing familiarity with the Spanish stages. “We saw here last year, doing an event for the second time, we won our first stage and made a step up. Now returning here to be doing our first event in a WRC car for the third time, we are looking for the same step.

“We would like to target another top five finish,” says Paddon, who has so far secured five top-five results on this season’s rallies. “But to do this we need to target a really strong day on the gravel on Friday, as despite our recent improvements on tarmac, we are still not at the top level to defend. But the tarmac stages are also a real pleasure to drive on – when conditions are dry, they can feel like a big racetrack. Hopefully we can put some of the lessons that we have learned recently to good use here so we will keep working hard to show more improvements on the tarmac stages for the future.”

Friday’s eight stage leg includes the mixed surface Terra Alta stage, but does not include a midday service – only a tyre fitting opportunity.

“We have done the Terra Alta stage the last couple of years now and we have a good idea what to expect. The biggest factor is tyre management, as after the tarmac section there is still 10km of gravel left.

“The Spanish gravel stages have always thrown up surprises in the past and can be a little hard on the car. However as it’s the only gravel day of the rally, it’s our best chance to put ourselves in a good position for the weekend, so we will push on Friday.”

The itinerary shows seven new stages for this year’s Rally de España. Paddon says some of the new stages are reversed or different configuration to last year. “So we have some good experience of this event and a good idea of what to expect.”

Paddon adds that swapping from gravel to tarmac will be more challenging than normal. “Last year we didn’t adapt much other than car setup between the gravel and tarmac, and I drove the car in a similar way. But with lessons of recent events, we now have a different pace note system and different setup of my controls in the car to adapt more to the tarmac, so there’s certainly a lot more to take in.”

From Kennard’s perspective in the co-driver’s seat, he says: “As Hayden said, the biggest challenge is probably that we’re making another step with note development, with slightly different gravel vs tarmac notes, so it will be interesting to get into that on an event where we have both surfaces. Also, as an event we’re more familiar with, our own expectations of our performance rise!”

The 51st edition of Rally de España features a revamped route of 331.25km, kicking off with a super special in Barcelona. The competition proper starts the next day with eight Friday stages and no lunchtime service, but an extended evening service of 75 minutes for crews to change the cars from gravel to tarmac configuration. Saturday’s itinerary sees a full tarmac line-up of eight stages, three repeated. Sunday is unusually busy with six stages with repeated runs on three stages.

Paddon and Kennard join Hyundai Motorsport team-mates Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo in Spain, the trio all confirmed as part of the Korean manufacturer’s German-based WRC team for the full 2016 season. Hyundai Motorsport enjoyed a three-car finish in last year’s Rally de España and will be looking to use the experience of that event, as well as its improved performances from this season, to register year-on-year improvements.

Benjamin Carrell is a freelance motorsport writer and currently edits He writes for a number of Kiwi drivers and motorsport clubs. That's when he's not working in his horticultural day-job or training for the next road or mtb cycle race!

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