Hayden Paddon and John Kennard have secured a career-best result with fifth place in Rally Sweden, the first of twelve events they will contest in the 2015 FIA World Rally Championship.
Driving for the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team this weekend, the Kiwis held a strong sixth position overall from late Friday afternoon and through Saturday’s longest day of competitive stages in the tricky snow and ice conditions of the WRC’s only full winter event. They approached Sunday’s final three stages with one goal – to bring their Hyundai i20 WRC car home in the top six. But when Mads Ostberg became stuck in a snow bank during the first of Sunday’s three stages, Paddon and Kennard were perfectly positions to benefit with a shift up the rankings to fifth. From there, they concentrated on successfully completing the final two tests through to wrap up the event and secure their best-ever WRC result.
“I’m really happy,” said Paddon who described the result as the perfect start to his season. “To get in the top five is much more than we expected going into this rally. It’s been a good rally for us overall and very important to gain the experience in these demanding winter conditions.
“This year conditions are probably the best they’ve been here for many years. There was a lot of snow before the rally, so there are really good snow banks and I guess that’s been encouraging drivers to drive fast, to really lean on the snow banks. At the same time that’s a catch 22, that’s what’s been catching some drivers out, including ourselves in some circumstances.”
For this event Paddon and Kennard, from Geraldine and Blenheim respectively, drove the #8 Hyundai i20 WRC car normally run by Hyundai Motorsport team-mate Dani Sordo and co-driver Marc Marti. However Sordo was out with a training injury, so Paddon’s fifth place meant he earned ten valuable WRC manufacturers’ points for the team to complement the 18 points earned by Hyundai Shell World Rally Team team-mates Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul who fought hard for their second place finish. Meanwhile Paddon’s usual #20 car was successfully bought home by the team’s test driver Kevin Abbring and co-driver Sebastian Marshall in eleventh place.
Paddon added: “After finishing Friday’s stages in sixth overall, we looked at cementing that position and building up a buffer. We had to work a lot on adapting our driving style to the set-up of the car and to the special requirements of these stages. It’s been a tricky rally for everyone and a big learning curve for us, so overall I am pleased with how we have tackled the event and the improvements we’ve made. We’ve keep ourselves clean, haven’t made any mistakes – okay, yes, there’s still some speed to come, but we know exactly where to improve. We’ve definitely had some good moments – as well as some struggles – but to finish in the top five is a really good result.
“I’m really happy for the team, with Thierry in second and us in fifth is good for the manufacturers’ points and that’s exactly what our job was for the weekend.”
Always looking to how he can improve his performance, Paddon’s own critique of the event highlights areas of driving, car setup and pace notes that he, Kennard and the team continue to work on.
“Obviously stepping into Dani’s car there have been a few limitations. But as a professional driver, that’s part of the job and these ten points are the most points we’ve ever scored in one rally so that puts us in a good position, a good frame of mind. Now I’m really looking forward to getting back on gravel with the next two events, Mexico and Argentina, even though they are events we don’t really have much experience on. We’ll be keeping our expectations in check, but certainly have a good base to build on with what we’ve achieved in Sweden.”
Team Principal Michel Nandan commented: “Hayden has registered his first top five finish with the team – in his first WRC event of the season – a highly commendable result.”
Paddon and the HPRG team appreciates the support of their exclusive partners, Hyundai New Zealand, PlaceMakers and Pak n’ Save, along with associate support from Z Energy, Scott Sports, New Balance New Zealand and All About Signs Timaru.