New Zealanders Hayden Paddon and John Kennard hold a steady ninth place overall after the first full day of Rally de Espana. The pair continued to deliver a strong performance in their first event in a world rally car, setting the eighth-quickest times on five of the day’s six stages before a spin on the day’s final stage, the super special in Salou.
Paddon says he continues to get more comfortable driving the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team-prepared Ford Fiesta RS world rally car and describes Saturday as a challenging, but rewarding day.
“With every stage we complete, the more comfortable we continue to get. We’re continually learning about the set-up of the car that works best,” Paddon said from rally HQ in the Spanish tourist city of Salou.
Having finished Friday’s opening three night-time stages in a very credible ninth place, Paddon says the team made several changes to the car overnight.
“It immediately felt better this morning. However I was still struggling with entry and mid corner under-steer which hampered how much corner speed we could carry.”
Paddon and Kennard immediately moved into eighth overall from the opening 16.35km test on special stage four. The shuffling of fellow Fiesta RS WRC drivers Martin Prokop and Qatari team-mate Mads Ostberg, at times faster, at other times slower than Paddon and a broken wheel may have played a part in the Kiwi star easing back to ninth overall by special stage six, despite still setting the eighth-quickest time.
“The team at M-Sport has continued to do a great job working with us and helping me to set up the car for my driving style, so going into Saturday’s afternoon stages we were able to make further changes which improved the car.”
The 26-year-old Kiwi is determined to maximise the opportunity and analyses every aspect of his performance.
“During the afternoon, which included the second run through the monster 42.04km El Priorat stage, we were able to get closer to the leaders and move back into eighth overall. An indication of our progression is that at the start of the rally we were 1.1 seconds per km behind the stage winner. This afternoon we were within 0.6 seconds per km, so some good gains.
“Unfortunately the time we made up this afternoon we lost with a small spin on the tricky final super special stage that dropped us back to ninth, but we’re only one second behind seasoned campaigned Martin Prokop in a similar Ford Fiesta as we face tomorrow’s a new challenge as the rally changes back to gravel.
“Naturally gravel is my favoured surface, however I have never driven this car on gravel, so will be a steep learning curve. The team have helped us with a good base set-up for the morning which I’m hoping we can get to grips quickly with and push further up the leader-board.
“All in all, so far, so good. We are happy with our progression and our times. The pace at the front is very hot while there have also been very few retirements. However tomorrow is a long tough day, so we need to keep doing what we are doing and get the car to the finish.”
The M-Sport technicians convert the team’s Fiesta RC WRC line-up from tarmac to gravel spec during Saturday evening’s 75 minute service.
Volkswagen driver Jari-Matti Latvala ended the second leg of Rally de Espana with a slender 1.6sec lead over Citroën’s Dani Sordo, after early leader Sébastien Ogier punctured and dropped out of the lead. Qatar World Rally Team driver Thierry Neuville is third. Latvala starts first on the road for Sunday’s six predominantly gravel stages where officials have specified a three minute start interval for priority one and two drivers, i.e. all WRC competitors. Latvala must sweep the loose gravel roads, leaving a cleaner and faster line for Sordo to capitalise on. However the early morning start could mean dust hangs in the still air behind Latvala to negate Sordo’s advantage. The dust implications for Paddon, starting ninth, are also unknown. The event finishes in Salou around 4.30pm on Sunday.
Paddon and his team appreciate the support of Pak ‘N’ Save, VINZ, Giltrap Group, PlaceMakers, Z Energy, Stadium Cars, Telecom New Zealand, CP-Carrillo, Saddle Hill Quarries, Heartland Potato Chips, New Balance, Scott Sports, Total Automotive Timaru, 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.