A tough day in the office is one way to describe the opening day of Wales Rally GB for Kiwi stars Hayden Paddon and John Kennard who battled increasingly slippery conditions and two kinds of mechanical issues with their Hyundai i20 WRC car to end the day in 12th overall.
With the day’s start order seeing the New Zealanders running 12th on the road among the 14 WRC crews, they weren’t the only ones challenged by the slippery, wet, Welsh gravel roads with Hyundai Motorsport team-mate Juno Hanninen going off into a ditch in stage three and having to retire for the day.
Friday’s route, a repeated loop of four stages southwest of the rally’s service park in the northern coastal town of Deeside, included 145.78 competitive kilometres and over 430 km of touring stages to and from the service park, plus a remote service which means a limited array of parts and possible repairs for all competitors.
Paddon and Kennard’s best times were ninth quickest on the second and third stages, and at the end of the morning loop they held ninth overall, although Paddon found the damp roads tough to read. “The grip is difficult to predict, but in many cases it looks lots worse than it is.”
Speaking at the end of day service, Paddon sounded determined and focused despite describing the day as “very, very trying”.
“This morning was obviously quite slippery, but the grip was better than what we were expecting and I didn’t adjust to it quite so well in the first stage or two. Then the times were a little better, and then we had a spin on last stage before service which cost us a bit of time. This afternoon had a few dramas. We lost the power steering toward the end of the first stage after service and couldn’t make repairs in time for the second one so lost a minute there. And then we were able to patch that up but also had some very bad handling issues which we think are differential-related so we’ll have to sit down and analyse the data now to see exactly what’s wrong. We just need to put our finger exactly on what it is so we can and try improve – we need to improve for tomorrow.”
Despite the obvious issues throughout the day, Paddon kept pushing to ensure he finished the opening day in 12th overall.
Paddon added: “It’s been a while since I’ve competed in conditions as slippery as the ones we’ve faced today so it took some time to get used to the varying grip levels in the stages. It’s been tough but we’ve gritted our teeth and pushed through, determined to make the end of the day. This is a new event for the team and for the Hyundai i20 WRC so we have to learn from it and improve, which we hope to do in tomorrow’s stages.”
Of Paddon’s team-mates, Thierry Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul in the #7 Hyundai i20 WRC hold the best position, ending Friday in sixth place overall after being embroiled in a close fight for fourth place. For Juho Hänninen and Tomi Tuominen in the #8 Hyundai i20 WRC, the damage to the car should be reparable and the team expects them to resume the event under Rally 2 regulations on Saturday morning. Hyundai Shell World Rally Team has never competed on the gruelling Welsh roads before, so this event marks yet another important milestone on the team’s ambitious learning curve in its rookie WRC season.
Wales Rally GB continues on Saturday with nine more stages covering 113.74 km. Another long day, it features two identical loops of four tests in north Wales, split by a short fan-friendly stage at Chirk Castle – the first competitor starts not long after sunrise and finishes the day with around 36 km of competition in wintry Welsh night conditions.
With the running order determined by reversing Friday’s overall classification, Paddon and Kennard will start third on the road behind Rally 2 re-starters Andreas Mikkelsen and team-mate Juho Hanninen, while rally leader Sébastien Ogier starts 14th. The event finishes on Sunday with 46.12 competitive kilometres split into six special stages.
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.