Kiwi rally stars Hayden Paddon and John Kennard took a stage win on the opening day of the Geko Ypres Rally, their first attempt at the highly-regarded tarmac Belgium event.
Securing a winning margin of just 0.3 seconds over French driver Bryan Bouffier on the final 9.66 km stage, Paddon was the only driver to stop Belgium rally star Freddy Loix winning all six of the first leg’s stages run on Friday evening, Belgium time.
Overnight, Paddon and Kennard are ranked third overall behind Loix and Bouffier, with a total accrued time of just over two minutes behind Loix, despite the slippery mud being tracked across the narrow tarmac roads which Paddon said made conditions very difficult.
The Ypres Rally, round six of the FIA European Rally Championship, is Paddon and Kennard’s first international event in 2013 where they’re driving a Ford Fiesta S2000 car run by Belgium-based Symtech Racing.
The top drivers elected to run in the order in which they qualified, namely: Loix, UK driver Craig Breen, Paddon, Polish driver Michal Solowow, and Bouffier.
Rain started on the first stage and, with cold tyres, Paddon went off on the very first corner through a potato field, an incident which sparked many humorous comments from Paddon’s Facebook fans. Despite the brief excursion, Paddon was fourth quickest through the 14.3 km opener and continued through the following three stages to set fourth or fifth-quickest times in the 100-strong field.
“So it’s been a very challenging start to Rally Ypres,” said Paddon late on Friday night from Belgium. “Increasing rain made the stages incredibly slippery and a lot of mud was dragged on to the road. Despite not being comfortable in the conditions we still managed to end the day in third which is not too bad considering.
“Our biggest problem was having no grip, and while the conditions were slippery for everyone, we struggled more than most trying to dial the car and tyres into the conditions. However we completed the day successfully and even won the last stage, Mesen, which carries some significance for the team having been invited by the Mayor to visit the town earlier in the week to learn about the New Zealand war history and battle lines around the township.”
More rain is forecast to continue overnight, but will hopefully stop before the rally recommences around 10.30 am Saturday and leave the roads slightly drier.
“We expect there still to be a lot of mud on the stages from drivers running in front of us cutting corners, but with drier roads, we should be able to get some better tyre temperature and be able to push with a lot more confidence.”
Targeting a podium finish as their ideal goal as they get back into international competition, Paddon and Kennard face 196.07 competitive kilometres across 14 special stages on Saturday to wrap up the event.
Paddon and his global rallying campaigns benefit from the support of Pirelli, PlaceMakers, Z Energy, Stadium Cars, Giltrap Group, Telecom New Zealand, Saddle Hill Quarries, Heartland Potato Chips, New Balance, Giltrap Group, Scott Sports, Total Automotive Timaru, CP Carrillo, Coxy’s Panel Repairs, Resene, All About Signs, Reaction Racing, In-Tune Automotive, Racetech, Chicane, Endless Brakes, Nichibo, Choice at Team Ralliart, Andar The Front Store, MCA Suspension, Tyre General, Dunlop, Pope Print, Bluebridge Ferry, ION, and 1Group.