New Zealand’s top rally driver Hayden Paddon is happy with his performance to finish in sixth position in Rally Spain, the penultimate event of the 2015 FIA World Rally Championship.
Paddon and Kennard started the final six tarmac stages of Rally de España on Sunday (European time) in joint seventh place with exactly the same total time as their Hyundai Motorsport team-mate Thierry Neuville.
Paddon had to concede seventh to Neuville for the morning’s opening stage, but regained the position with a top-five time in the next test. He had a steady run through the remaining competitive stages, pushing on the penultimate stage to set the third-quickest time – his second of the rally – to hold seventh going into the final stage. Unexpectedly rally leader Sébastien Ogier crashed, elevating Paddon and Kennard into sixth place and their team-mate Dani Sordo onto the podium with third.
“It’s been a reasonably good rally to come home with a good position,” said Paddon. “In particular, our improvements on tarmac and setting a couple of top three times along the way is a nice improvement and confirms things from Corsica that we’re heading in the right direction on tarmac.”
The Spanish event is unique in that Friday’s stages are predominantly gravel, while Saturday and Sunday’s are on fast, flowing tarmac roads.
The New Zealanders showed good pace on gravel with a joint fastest stage time and three more top-five times, to end Friday in seventh. Two punctures hampered their performance on Saturday’s asphalt runs, but Paddon was encouraged by his relative pace against his Hyundai Motorsport team-mates. With three fifth-fastest times during Saturday’s eight special stages, including one where Paddon, Sordo and Ford driver Elfyn Evans all set exactly the same stage time, Paddon said: “Even with my issues today, to be level with Thierry, and to have beaten him and Dani on a couple of stages, is very encouraging. We’re learning all the time and when you compare our pace to twelve months ago here, it’s certainly a good improvement.”
With the overall position of sixth place wrapped up, Paddon added: “I am happy with how our weekend has gone overall. We made a good start on the mixed surface on day one and we have certainly shown a good improvement on tarmac compared to this time last year. We had a decent Sunday and were able to move back into seventh place, from where we just took it easy to bring the car home. We then, of course, moved into sixth place after Ogier’s incident in the final stage.
“All in all, it’s not been a bad weekend, although there is always room for improvement. We have tried to keep the pressure on the guys in front of us and I think we can be pretty satisfied with sixth.
“We now look forward to the gravel of Wales Rally GB, the final rally of the season, with our focus on helping the team in the fight for second in the championship. It would nice to try and stitch together some of these split and stage times to bring home a good result for everybody.”
Today’s podium marks the third event of 2015 in which Hyundai Motorsport has stepped onto the podium following Sweden and Sardinia, and the first top-three of the year for Sordo. The team still holds third in the championship, and sets up a tantalising battle for second in the season finale.
Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “In the end, we can celebrate a brilliant podium thanks to a very dramatic end to this rally. It is particularly special for Dani in front of his home fans and helps us add some important points for the Championship fight. We have shown some really solid pace from the Hyundai i20 WRCs this weekend in what is a complicated mixed surface event, so that is very encouraging. Hayden’s sixth place is a nice reward for his efforts this weekend, particularly after his punctures yesterday, while Thierry can take consolation from finishing eighth after a tough final day. He had a transmission issue in SS22, the penultimate stage, which sent him off the road, and he then had to complete the rally with two-wheel drive, which certainly minimised the damage in terms of scoring points. Three cars in the top-eight and a podium result is a nice achievement and the team has done an exceptional job. There’s just one rally left – and one important job for us – to push for second place. We know we’ll have to fight for it but we’re up for the battle!”
The final round of the 2015 FIA World Rally Championship takes place in Great Britain from 12-15 November.
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.