Blenheim’s John Kennard has been recognised for his achievements in the FIA World Rally Championship as co-driver to Hayden Paddon by the Marlborough community, with Kennard named the Marlborough sportsperson of the year earlier this week.
This is the first time Kennard has been named sportsperson of the year in his regional sports awards, having been nominated twice before by the Marlborough Car Club for his and Paddon’s victory in the 2011 Production World Rally Championship and one of their New Zealand Rally Championship titles.
“It’s just fantastic,” says Kennard from home in Blenheim after another busy WRC season where he and Paddon finished fourth in their respective co-drivers’ and drivers’ championships. “It’s another recognition of what we’re doing. To be seen by your community as being at that sort of level is just incredible and it’s another acknowledgement of the people who have supported us all the way through, so that’s fantastic as well.”
Other motorsport competitors have won similar regional sports awards including Paddon who has twice been named the South Canterbury sportsperson of the year. However this is the first time a four-wheeled motorsport competitor has won the Marlborough award, which is dominated by cycling and rowing competitors. It’s also the first time in several years since a rally co-driver has received a similar award, the last being Sara Mason who jointly received the Wairarapa sportsperson title with rally driving husband Richard.
“We congratulate John Kennard on being named the Marlborough sportsman, and then sportsperson of the year,” says Wayne Christie, President of MotorSport New Zealand.
“John and Hayden represent New Zealand and motorsport with incredible professionalism and talent at the highest level. They are fantastic ambassadors for our sport, and it is always encouraging to see the achievements of our motorsport competitors recognised by the wider sporting community.”
Kennard and Paddon were inducted into the MotorSport New Zealand Wall of Fame in 2012 following their history-making PWRC victory. Located in MotorSport House, the MotorSport Wall of Fame is a permanent reminder of the achievements of past and present members.
Of their 2016 WRC season, Kennard says to have been vying for third place in the championship right up until the end is both to expectation and beyond expectations. “Every time you win a stage, you have to stop and think for a fraction of a second of the people you’ve beaten on that stage or the win in Argentina, the people that you’ve beaten are the best in the world. So fourth is a really great achievement, yet one that I’m sure that we can surpass in the future.”
In terms of the future and what’s still to come for New Zealand’s most successful rally pairing, Kennard says: “We’ve always known that there will be a tiny little bit of speed at the end that is hard to find. You can find it occasionally, you can win a stage, you can win a rally but we haven’t won a rally since Argentina, so finding the consistency that makes you world number one isn’t easy. We keep finding little, little things. We keep trying things, changing notes – Hayden’s always been prepared to try different ways of doing things.”
Along with their Hyundai Motorsport team-mates, Paddon and Kennard will have a brand-new, 2017-spec Hyundai i20 world rally car in which to contest the 2017 WRC. Kennard says the new car is a bit of a double-edged sword from the co-driver’s side of things. “On tarmac, the new active centre diff gives you the ability to corner that much faster so the straight after becomes that much faster and the whole thing is faster. What used to be 100 metres where you could take a breath reading the notes, now that disappears and you need 150 metres before you can take that breath. Yes, I’m looking forward to it, but there’s a little trepidation about just what it’s going to be like!”
Other than a brief trip to Europe to help Hyundai Motorsport officially launch their new WRC car, Kennard is looking forward to nearly five weeks at home in Marlborough, tending his vineyard and improving his fitness with lots of mountain biking around the region.