Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard head back into the thick of World Rally Championship action with the 21-24 April running of Rally Argentina. The Kiwis are fresh from a successful debut of their brand-new, New Zealand-built Hyundai i20 at Rally Otago where they secured a record-making win and are focused on using this year’s event to gain more experience of the only South American WRC event in their New Generation i20 WRC car.
This will be the third time Paddon and Kennard have competed in Argentina – in 2011 they won the PWRC category and last year they had a character-building WRC car debut on the challenging Argentinean roads. While they managed to set some top five times, two car-breaking incidents meant their capacity to fight back to 16th place overall was a fine effort.
Based in Villa Carlos Paz, 700km out of Buenos Aires, the early autumn rally combines soft, sandy roads which become heavily rutted for the second pass, rocky narrow, mountain roads, many river crossings in the valleys and the potential for fog and even ice in the mountains.
“Some of the stages we did here in the PWRC in 2011,” Paddon says. “There are more faster stages which I enjoy but, in general, this is the roughest rally of the championship and each year we come back the conditions are different. You have to adopt a slightly different mentality to make sure you look after the car as best you can.
“It has been raining non-stop around the rally region for two weeks. The weather outlook for the rally is not so bad but the poor weather in the build-up means we can expect a lot of damaged and rough roads which will add to the challenge. Generally, with the softer sandy conditions, tyre strategy is pretty straightforward with softs being the best.”
One aspect of the rally route which is a little in Paddon’s favour is the length of the popular super special stage at a theme park on the edge of Villa Carlos Paz which runs twice on Friday. At 6.04km, Paddon says it’s not a typical, ultra-short super special stage where he may not be as competitive as he’d like. “It is more a normal gravel road stage – we missed doing it last year but it certainly looks more enjoyable.”
Paddon says the atmosphere with the sheer numbers of fans out watching the action makes this event extraordinary as a competitor. “The thing that always stands out about this rally is the atmosphere and the hundreds of thousands of spectators that line the stages – that makes it special. In terms of the roads, it’s not really my favourite rally but we will put that behind us and try and bring home another top five result.”
Kennard adds: “Being a rough rally doesn’t make it much fun from my side of the car. Trying to write notes during recce is often difficult and there’s always a lot of tidy-up work after to make sure you can read the notes clearly when getting bounced around on the stages during the rally. As Hayden says, it’s not particularly a favourite rally, but one with its own special atmosphere and very enthusiastic fans.”
With no testing for events outside Europe, the team carried out a four-day test in northern Portugal at the start of April in order to prepare for Rally Argentina. Work concentrated on set-up work and reliability tests in conditions similar to those that will be encountered next weekend. The cars got flown back to Germany between Mexico and Argentina for full rebuilds, while the service equipment was sea freighted directly.
“Even without being in the WRC car since Mexico, competing in Rally Otago gave us good seat time, which always helps,” Paddon adds.
Paddon and Kennard fly the Hyundai Mobis World Rally Team banner in Argentina while Hyundai Motorsport team-mates Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo drive for Hyundai Shell World Rally Team where the team will aim for its third podium finish with the New Generation i20 WRC, which has already shown good pace in the opening three rounds of the season.
WRC points going into Argentina
2016 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
S. Ogier 77 points / M. Østberg 39 / A. Mikkelsen 33 / D. Sordo 33 / H. Paddon 29 / J. M. Latvala 27 / O. Tanak 24 / T. Neuville 15 / S. Lefebvre 10 / H. Solberg 6 / M. Prokop 6 / E. Evans 6 / C. Breen 4 / L. Bertelli 4 / T. Suninen 3 / E. Lappi 2 / A. Kremer 1 / K. Meeke 1 / V. Gorban 1
2016 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
Volkswagen Motorsport 97 points / Hyundai Motorsport 64 / M-Sport World Rally Team 43 / Volkswagen Motorsport II 30 / DMACK World Rally Team 26 / Hyundai Motorsport N 24 / Jipocar Czech National Team 6