Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard head to the Portuguese round of the FIA World Rally Championship with a business-as-usual attitude.
The New Zealanders’ success with their maiden WRC round win in Argentina – with a maximum points’ haul for winning both the rally and the power stage – less than four weeks ago has given the pair confidence they can fight at the top of the running order, but Paddon says his feet are on the ground for the 19-22 May rally.
“It’s very much business as usual,” Paddon said following a two-day test in his New Generation Hyundai i20 WRC car in Portugal which leads into a string of European rallies where Paddon and Kennard have more experience than the two long-haul events in Argentina and Mexico.
“While the confidence is high, our feet are still firmly on the ground. The challenge is greater now with the expectations of our performance and our road position, as being second in the championship behind Sébastien Ogier, we’ll be second on the road for Friday and Saturday’s legs. We’ll stick to our original plan for this season, and maintain our focus to keep improving event by event.”
Paddon and Kennard’s win in Argentina was the first for Hyundai’s 2016-spec i20 rally car – as well as making New Zealand motorsport history as the first-ever WRC round win for a New Zealand driver and co-driver. Paddon says victory in the current spec car was also very positive for the team.
“I think it naturally lifts the motivation within the team somewhat. However, we are all hungry for more and it’s good to know that we are all capable of winning, especially as there is more to come in terms of our and the car’s
Of the rally ahead, Paddon says: “Our road position means the first pass of the sandy stages will certainly be looser and more challenging. However, the main person we are focused on for this rally is to stay as close to Seb as we can while in equal conditions. In the future this is the position we need to be fighting from.
“I enjoy this rally, although I would describe it as a medium speed event which doesn’t fit my natural style as much as other faster events. However, our performance in these slower, more technical events is an area we have been improving a lot recently, so we will continue that here. The roads can be quite technical and require a lot of information from the pace notes, so that keeps John very busy preparing for and during the rally.”
Paddon says their test focussed on suspension settings, and developing setup strategies for the rally where tyre choice and management is critical.
“It has been a very wet winter here in Portugal and our test was quite wet which was not ideal. While the forecast for the rally is hot and sunny, recent wet weather will mean the roads are soft and we expect it to cut up and get rutted, with exposed rocks, a lot more than normal which will certainly have an impact for all on the second pass, especially given the big field of entries.”
This is the fifth time Paddon and Kennard have competed in Portugal and they’ll be one of 19 WRC competitors.
The rally returned to the country’s north to the host city of Matosinhos, north of Porto, last year and this year’s route of 368 competitive kilometres is very similar to last year, which levels the playing field for all WRC regulars. The New Zealanders are running car #3 for the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team with team-mates Dani Sordo and Marc Marti in the #4 i20. Kevin Abbring will join Thierry Neuville in the Hyundai Mobis World Rally Team in the #10 and #20 cars respectively – the first time Hyundai Motorsport has fielded a four car team this season.
A Thursday afternoon ceremonial start at Guimarães will be followed by an evening super special stage at Lousada rallycross circuit. Friday’s route heads north for stages around Ponte de Lima, near the Spanish border. Saturday’s route, the longest of the rally, journeys east for tests near Amarante, and Sunday’s leg has just three stages, with the focus on the classic Fafe test.