New Zealand’s top rally pairing, Hayden Paddon and John Kennard, has taken their best-ever result in a World Rally Championship car with a well-deserved sixth place at this weekend’s Coates Hire Rally Australia.
After an intense battle with the Citroën crew of Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson throughout the event, the Kiwis were perfectly positioned to take advantage of Østberg’s demise with a broken suspension in the penultimate stage of the 20-stage rally based in the New South Wales coastal town of Coffs Harbour. Paddon and Kennard also finished the best of the three Hyundai Motorsport crews, but it was the battle with Østberg which Paddon seemed to enjoy most.
Paddon said: “Obviously to finish sixth overall is our best result with the team. We’ve made really good progress in terms of performance and outright speed since Finland and we’re much closer to the leaders. We’ve done everything the team has asked of us.”
This weekend’s result is a career best-equalling finish, with Paddon and Kennard having finished in sixth place at Rally Australia in 2011 when they secured the FIA Production World Rally Championship title.
“This afternoon we were in the right place to take advantage of Mads Østberg’s problems and in fact, all through the rally there was never more than eight seconds between Mads and I so it was exciting to have a close fight like this, particularly on a Sunday which can often be a bit boring when everyone’s focused on safely getting to the end of the event.”
Paddon and Kennard started the third leg of the Australian event determined to regain the sixth position overall they’d lost to Østberg on the second day. They completed the day’s first test, the longest, 24.72 km stage, with the sixth-quickest time and reduced the margin to Østberg from 7.3 seconds to just 3.1 seconds.
The Kiwi said: “We’re never giving up. We’ve made some great changes to the balance of the car. That was a good stage.”
In response, a despondent-sounding Østberg said: “He’s taken about four seconds, that’s too much. We need to turn that around on the next stage. We can do that.”
Østberg, who won his first and only WRC event in 2012, kept his poise and despite Paddon then setting a fifth-quickest time on special stage 17, the Hyundai driver wasn’t quite able to edge ahead.
“We got it down to a four second gap between us and Mads this afternoon – it was hard to take the time out of him but we were able to keep the pressure on him.”
At the lunchtime service break, Paddon said: “It’s not been a bad morning. We’ve been pushing a bit this morning; the car’s been good and obviously we’re in a close fight with Mads. We’re keeping the pressure on, and most importantly we’re making progress and being competitive up the front.
“So far the attrition of the WRC cars has been very low [all 11 WRC competitors were still running at that point] so being seventh is not too bad. Okay, we would have liked to have been to be higher up the field but we have to be realistic as well. All in all, it’s been a good weekend. If we can bring it home now, that would be mission accomplished.”
Stage 19 and the second run through the Bucca stage, which is described as the roughest stage of the rally with stones on the road and bedrock poking through for much of the first half, and Østberg was unlucky to damage the right-hand rear suspension of his Citroen DS3. The Norwegian’s misfortune was obviously to Paddon’s benefit and the Kiwi comfortably completed the event’s final stage to secure sixth place, his best result in a WRC event and for the Hyundai Motorsport team.
“Overall, we’ve been more competitive this weekend and we’ve made another good step compared to our last rally in Finland; that’s the most important thing.”
Paddon’s Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville battled hard to finish seventh with some solid stage times while Australian Chris Atkinson ended his home rally in tenth spot.
This weekend’s rally has been the young Hyundai Shell World Rally Team’s first outing on the unique Australian terrain, so the focus has been on gathering valuable experience in preparation for next season.
Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “Firstly, congratulations to Hayden on securing his best ever WRC finish with sixth place. He has driven a mature and faultless rally from the start and it was a thrilling battle. We knew after Rallye Deutschland that we would have to reset our expectations for this rally, our first trip to Australia, and so I am pleased to have all three cars finish inside the top ten. The Hyundai i20 WRC has never competed on Australian soil before so this has been a very important, valuable weekend for us as we prepare for next season. All three drivers have allowed us to learn more about the car and we have made some key improvements over the three days. We must never forget this is still a learning year and we are up against some strong, experienced competition. On that note, I would like to send our congratulations to Volkswagen Motorsport on securing an incredibly well deserved title, and in such style with a 1-2-3 result.”
Rally Australia marks Paddon’s fourth event with Hyundai Motorsport and with two further events – October’s RallyRACC-Rally de Espana and November’s Wales Rally GB – to run, Paddon will have a short spell at home in New Zealand before returning to his European base in Frankfurt for the reminder of the season.
Paddon and the HPRG team appreciates the support of their exclusive partners VINZ, PlaceMakers, Pak n’ Save and Hyundai New Zealand along with associate support from Z Energy, Scott Sports and New Balance. More information about the team can be found on haydenpaddon.com.