Hayden Paddon is feeling encouraged by his improving performance on tarmac surface rallies as he and co-driver John Kennard finish the second day of Rally de España in joint seventh place – on exactly the same time as their Hyundai Motorsport team-mate Thierry Neuville.
“Even with my issues today, to be level with Thierry, and to have beaten him and Dani on a couple of stages, is very encouraging,” says Paddon on Saturday evening (European time) while competing in the 23-27 running of Rally Spain, the penultimate round of the 2015 FIA World Rally Championship.
Paddon and Kennard got off to an impressive start on Friday’s predominantly gravel stages setting a joint fastest stage time, matching Citroën driver Mads Ostberg on the 9.62 km opening stage. Third quickest time in the next stage saw the Kiwis leap into third overall by mid-morning. However the intense tyre wear, worsening road conditions and a feeling that their car wasn’t a hundred per cent right on the repeated afternoon runs saw Paddon and Kennard struggle to maintain their position and they finished the day in seventh overall.
Heading into Saturday’s first of two days of all tarmac stages, the Kiwis had an up-and-down day contending with two punctures – one in the morning’s opening stage and the second partway through the afternoon’s repeated loop of the fast, flowing, race course-like Spanish roads.
“The punctures cost us a good 20 seconds; it’s a little frustrating as they were self-inflicted though from hitting rocks on the insides of corners, so I’ve only myself to blame.
“On other stages, the speed’s been quite okay,” said Paddon who set three fifth-fastest times during Saturday’s eight special stages, including one where he, Hyundai team-mate Dani Sordo and Ford driver Elfyn Evans all set exactly the same stage time.
“We’re even ahead of our team-mates on a couple of stages which is really nice considering their experience on tarmac.
“We’re learning all the time and when you compare our pace to twelve months ago here, it’s certainly a good improvement. We’ll just try and learn more tomorrow and keep on improving.”
Paddon’s team-mate Dani Sordo holds a hard-fought fourth place going into Sunday’s final six stages.
Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “We have seen another closely fought day of rallying today, with eight stages held on asphalt. Firstly, I’d like to say congratulations to our team of mechanics for their efforts in preparing the cars for tarmac specification last night – it was another job well done and great to watch them take centre stage. The drivers have shown good performances once again today.
“Dani continues to put pressure on the podium contenders and he is pushing hard for a top three result in front of his home fans. Thierry, too, has made real strides today after working hard on improving his set-up and it was good to see him claim a joint stage win at the end of the day. His confidence is much better as we prepare for tomorrow. Hayden has had a harder day with two punctures but he has shown resilience to retain a top-eight place. All three drivers are motivated to push in tomorrow’s stages – and I’m sure we’ll see lots of action up and down the classification.”