Paddon copes with WRC Mexico’s tough lessons to hold fifth

| Photographer Credit: Timo Anis Photography

New Zealanders Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard hold fifth place with one day to go at Rally Mexico.

The pair has overcome two broken suspension arms, which dropped them to sixth place twice, niggling mechanical issues with their New Generation Hyundai i20 WRC car and the high temperatures of the heavily-gravelled stages during the first two full days of the event (which runs 3-6 March).

Regarded as one of the toughest, hottest events of the FIA World Rally Championship, the mountainous Mexican special stages were always going provide plenty of learning opportunities for Paddon and Kennard who are contesting this event for just the second time since they first started their partnership in the WRC with a production-spec car in 2010. To be in fifth place on this unfamiliar and unforgiving rally, which also marks Paddon’s 50th WRC start, is a commendable effort.

The Kiwis came through Thursday evening’s first three super special stages run in front of massive crowds in the streets of Guanajuato, UNESCO World Heritage Site, and León’s motor racing circuit to hold sixth overall. Paddon commented: “The atmosphere tonight has been amazing – it has been about the fans today and not the driving. Super special stages are an area for me to work on, but tonight was not so bad.”

They commenced the first full day of gravel action on Friday morning, running fourth on the road thanks to Paddon’s fourth-equal place in the WRC drivers’ championship coming into this third round of the WRC season.

They returned to the midday service in sixth place, only 7.4 seconds behind Mads Ostberg in fifth, with Paddon saying: “A difficult morning, obviously not the start we wanted. Firstly, we got the tyre choice a little bit wrong going out on the hard compound this morning, but we tried to limit the time loss as much as we can. And then on the last proper stage, we broke a suspension arm. We were lucky to get through and replace the arm after the stage and still be back here in service. We can already see this rally’s creating quite a bit of carnage or problems. There’s a long way to go and I’m sure we can try and claw some time back.”

Setting more competitive times during the afternoon with third and fourth-fastest stage times, the Kiwis were able to take fifth from Ostberg, who also picked up a 10sec penalty for a jump start.

“This afternoon has been better, we got the tyre choice right, but still just some little issues inside the car – little technical problems which you can expect with a new car like this on gravel for the first time. We’ll press the reset button tonight. The position’s still okay, we’re in the top five, but I obviously want to improve to we’ll work on that tomorrow.”

As Saturday’s nine stages got underway, Paddon was pleased with the changes he and his engineers made to the car overnight.

“They certainly helped with the feeling and we were able to push a bit harder,” he said during Saturday’s midday service break. “But unfortunately early on in the long stage we broke the same suspension arm as yesterday, so we lost two minutes getting out of the stage. We’re still here. We only lost one position and now we have a bit of a fight on our hands to try and make up that one minute to fifth place again. We’ll certainly put up a fight to try and do that. Not all is lost, a long way to go and we can continue improving.”

Finishing Saturday with four top-four times and two top-three times to his credit, Paddon said: “Another tough day, but the positive from the day is that we’re still going. We’ve been able to hold our top five result despite the issues with a few little overheating problems this afternoon. It’s been a trying and challenging rally so far. Obviously the result is not so bad, so we’re quite lucky in that respect. We just need to try and bring it home tomorrow.”

Paddon is 53 seconds behind Mads Ostberg in fourth and has a lead of more two minutes over Ott Tanak in sixth place.

Paddon’s Hyundai Motorsport team-mates have had mixed fortunes. Dani Sordo is fighting hard in third place while a second crash for Thierry Neuville on Saturday means he will take no further part in the weekend’s rally.

The final leg of Rally Mexico on Sunday features just two stages – the monstrous 80km Guanajuato stretch and the final power stage.

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