Kiwi rally star Hayden Paddon and his Paddon Rallysport team has shattered the Ashley Forest Rallysprint record with a blistering time of 52.77 seconds in the Hyundai AP4++ to win the high-profile hillclimb event.
The 1.7-km North Canterbury hillclimb was first run in 1979 by Canterbury’s RATEC Motorsport Club and attracts an array of local, national and international competitors. The previous record of 54.96 seconds was set by Sloan Cox on his way to winning the 2017 event and prior to that, the record of 56.57 seconds set by the late Kim Austin stood for 17 years. Last year’s title went to Australia-based Scotsman Alister McRae in a car once rallied by Kiwi rally legend Possum Bourne.
The short, intense gravel hillclimb is an event that Paddon has always followed. He watched it on TV as a child, first contested it at the age of 14 and won it on his second attempt in 2011 with a time of 57.16 seconds.
“It’s nice to get it over the line and it’s quite a relief in some ways,” said Paddon after breaking the record for the first time on Sunday morning and going on to setting another new record and win the event on his final run on Sunday afternoon. “With the amount of work and obstacles thrown at us during the week up to the event, it’s quite amazing it’s turned out like this. It’s been a huge commitment from the team with the amount of work that’s gone in this week, so it’s very cool to break the record – that was our main goal.”
The non-delivery of a part for the engine that Paddon Rallysport intended to run in the Hyundai AP4++ was a curved ball. “We weren’t able to use the 800hp engine we were planning to use for this event, and in the end had to run a 500hp option so we were a bit up against it. But in some ways, it was really nice because we had to try and find other ways to gain time. The whole team absolutely pulled together and never gave up, and we got the desired outcome in the end.”
Paddon describes the gravel hillclimb as offering near perfect conditions. “The temperature was perfect although the road was getting a little bit rough in a couple of places towards the end.”
The New Zealand Rally Championship Hyundai was transformed into hillclimb spec by Paddon Rallysport at their Cromwell workshop. “Chassis-wise and with its setup, the car has always worked very well, but compared to rally trim, we have nearly 200hp more and the aero is a step up from last year.”
Paddon’s main goal was to break the Ashley Forest record held by Sloan Cox. “To be honest, I didn’t think it was going to be possible after yesterday.”
Paddon finished Saturday’s qualifying runs with a best time of 57 seconds exactly, while Cox’s was 56.79 seconds. “But everything worked out really well today. We extracted almost as much as we could from the car, so it’s good to know there’s more to come. If we can get the engine package right for the future, there’s still unfinished business to come back and lower that time even further. Could we break 50 seconds? It’s a massive challenge and probably some kind of an engineering phenomenon as the margins get smaller and smaller, the faster you go. I know there’s a little more time in our last run today so you take that into the equation and a few other things, it could be possible, but obviously not easy!”
Paddon thrives on the intensity of competition. “You really can’t make any mistakes during the elimination runs on this 1.7-km stretch of hill. It was a real shame that Sloan went out a couple of runs from the end with his problems. It took some pressure off us which meant we could get through the elimination shootouts and put it all on the line for the last one, but it would have been great to have had that all-out battle with Sloan right down to the wire.”
Paddon gives special guests the thrill of a lifetime with a ride in the Hyundai’s passenger seat during each run. “For the last one it was a matter of finding someone light, and we’d been introduced to 12-year-old karter Louis Sharp – he was perfect for that last run! He’s passionate about motorsport and I made a deal with him that if I give you a ride today, you can give me a ride in a Formula 1 car one day!”