Hayden Paddon and John Kennard secured their fifth outright victory in the Rally of Otago to create the perfect debut for their brand-new New Zealand-built Hyundai i20 rally car.
New Zealand’s only driver/co-driver combination to compete in the World Rally Championship, Paddon and Kennard are home between international events to launch the first-ever New Zealand-developed Hyundai rally car which is part of a new partnership with Hyundai New Zealand.
Paddon and Kennard, from Geraldine and Blenheim respectively, blitzed the New Zealand Rally Championship field to win the two-day 40th anniversary Otago Rally by 9 minutes, 22.1 seconds from defending NZRC champion Ben Hunt and third-placed David Holder who competes in Paddon’s former championship-winning car.
“It was pretty much the perfect debut for the new Hyundai,” said Paddon. “If anything, it probably exceeded my expectations. The base of the car is very good. Our team worked very long hours coming up to the rally getting the car ready, and even right up to shakedown we were having problems so they were able to get on top on those right before the start of the rally which was great.”
While Paddon says there are still some things to be addressed with the car, he believes there’s a lot more speed yet to come from the 1.8-litre, turbocharged i20 car, the chassis of which has been built to relatively new AP4 (Asia Pacific) regulations in conjunction with well-known rally driver and fabricator Andrew Hawkeswood of Force Motorsport.
“I think as a starting base, it couldn’t be much better. Compared to the classic car we drove to victory here last year, the speeds are lot higher. As a rally driver, you want to going as fast as you can – of course I love the speed and the speed you can carry through the corners in this car is quite impressive.”
Paddon says the concept of the AP4 regulations is right on track. “We’re not trying to build or design a WRC car here, so it’s not at that level, but as a value for money package, you simply can’t get any better. At the moment, the majority of the performance of the car is coming from the chassis and the suspension and this is where you get the real benefits of this type of car; the engine is relatively secondary.”
Of the rally itself, which Paddon and Kennard have won four times previously, Paddon said: “Only about 30 per cent of stages we’d actually done before as much of the route was new or being driven in the opposite direction, so that was a good challenge. It’s always more difficult when you’re trying to drive at speed on a one-pass recce (compared to a two-pass recce of WRC event) so we certainly noticed the difference when we got back to stages that we knew from the past. It was a nice challenge and keeps you on toes and keeps you refreshed.”
An important aspect of the Paddon-Hyundai New Zealand joint project is the inclusion of students who participate in a Hyundai New Zealand-backed mentoring programme for talented, passionate teenagers 15-18 years old called the Pinnacle Programme.
“We were delighted to have Matthew Mallett, a mechanical student from Hamilton’s Wintec, join us at Rally Otago. We gave Matthew different jobs over the two days of the rally and as the weekend progressed, he took on more detailed and challenging jobs so he was right in the mix by the end. He really enjoyed it and the guys liked having him as part of the team.”
Hyundai New Zealand welcomed a large group of customers and dealer network personnel at their first official event as a manufacturer in the New Zealand Rally Championship. Andy Sinclair, general manager of Hyundai New Zealand, was delighted to see the new partnership get into the action at Rally Otago this weekend.
“With a hospitality suite in the Dunedin service park and organised hosting of guests out on the rally stages, Hyundai personnel enjoyed a spectacular weekend watching Hayden and John lead the rally from start to finish,” said Sinclair. “We’ve thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and can’t wait to join Hayden and John at Rally Whangarei later in April.”
Paddon said: “Out on the stages, it’s the most spectators I’ve ever seen at an NZRC event. There were some really massive crowds out there and for Hyundai to be part of that for their first-ever NZRC rally, created a great buzz. Just amazing crowds and really fantastic for the Otago rally as it celebrates its 40th year.
“It’s been a massive weekend with Hyundai New Zealand and many representatives from around their nationwide dealer network and I thank them all for their support and enthusiasm. Both John and I, and the rest of our team look forward to joining everyone in Whangarei at the end of this month to further refine this exciting NZ-built i20 rally car.”
Paddon and Kennard return to WRC duties at Rally Argentina, 21-24 April, before flying back to New Zealand to contest the 29 April-1 May running of the International Rally of Whangarei in their NZ-build i20 rally car.