Kiwi rally star Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard are aiming for a top three finish at this week’s FIA World Rally Championship event in Australia.
The pair will pilot the #8 Hyundai i20 WRC rally car in the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team, Hyundai Motorsport’s main team, for the 10-13 September event.
The change from their usual #20 car which sports Hyundai Mobis World Rally Team livery comes as the team strives to consolidate its second place in the WRC manufacturers’ championship. Paddon’s recent experience of this unique event in the forests and shire roads of Coffs Harbour on the coast of New South Wales and his strong run of form on gravel this season led the team to make the decision to run Paddon and Kennard alongside Thierry Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul in the #7 car to offer the highest probability of good points.
All season, Paddon has said he’s been targeting Coates Hire Rally Australia for a good result.
“Regardless of which car I’m driving, I have targeted this event all year as one of our strongest events, particularly if it stays dry and we have a road position advantage,” Paddon says during a brief visit home to New Zealand from Europe before heading to Australia. “We want to push for the podium. At this level that’s not easy, but we will be giving it our best shot.”
With the running order determined by championship position for the first two days of the rally, Paddon will start 10th on the road.
Paddon and Kennard have competed in the Coffs Harbour WRC event three times previously, securing a career-best sixth place last year with Hyundai.
Paddon says the change of car isn’t of consequence from a technical perspective.
“Absolutely nothing changes other than the car number on the door. The spec of the car, setup, personnel, etc. are the same as if we were driving #20. Of course, there is a little added pressure to score points for the team, but it’s very pleasing that the team has faith in me to challenge for points that can help the team in the manufacturers’ championship standings.”
Rally Australia offers one of the most compact routes of the 2015 WRC season with the majority of the 311.36km of competitive special stages handily positioned around the Coffs Harbour rally base. There are just over 1,000km of competitive and touring stages combined. The event uses a mix of hard base roads, some tight and twisty and others fast and flowing, often lined by trees close to the edge or negotiating dense rainforest.
“The route features some new stages this year which are more public road stages. These will suit us well and, with the bulk of the mileage of the event is similar to previous years’, we’re looking forward to it. Saturday’s 50km Nambucca stage will be a key decider, but it’s also one of my favourite stages; quite fast and flowing with a few changes of rhythm.
“The anticipated changeable spring weather and shorter stages means tyre strategy will be key, but we have planned well for this.”
Like all WRC competitors, Paddon has the option of hard compound Michelin tyres or softs in case of rain.
“We are not anticipating too much rain for the rally, however a little humidity can help grip. If it’s really wet, the stages can be extremely slippery. Having said that, none of my WRC competitors or I have competed in Coffs when it’s extremely wet so that would be a new and levelling experience for all of us.”
Route changes also see the previous city-based super special stage dropped so Saturday’s leg concludes with a run in darkness. This change appeals to Paddon who enjoys night stages more than short, sharp super special stages.
Co-driver John Kennard says he’s really looking forward to what is the closest to a home event for the only New Zealanders competing in the WRC.
“It’s the nearest thing we have to home nowadays, with some enjoyable public road stages. From my side of the car, it’s also a logistically simpler event than some. In fact, it’s the complete reverse of somewhere like Germany, which is quite unrelenting, even on recce and road sections.”
Being Kiwis, Paddon and Kennard attract a lot of attention on the Australian event with organisers, media and fans keen to talk with the pair. Around 100 people are following the event as part of an official Paddon RallySport tour and hundreds more are travelling across the Tasman to support their favourite driver and enjoy the WRC action.
“It’s amazing to have so much support from the groups that we are hosting, but also the hundreds of other Kiwis going over. It will make for a special experience and I’m sure it will give us that little extra lift to push for the front.”
Paddon and Kennard are one of 11 WRC crews competing in Australia. They face eight stages on Friday, including the trio of new fast and technical stages. Saturday has just four stages, including two runs of the 50km Nambucca, the longest stage of the event. The event concludes with four more stages on Sunday.
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.