Hayden Paddon feels more positive about his improved competitiveness against his Hyundai team-mates and other World Rally Championship front-runners having secured eighth position with co-driver John Kennard at this weekend’s Rally Portugal.
The Kiwi rally star describes his fourth event of the 2015 FIA World Rally Championship season as “an up and down weekend” and, although he’d hoped for a top five result, he’s feeling encouraged by the relative closeness of his times to the rally’s podium finishers.
“To put it in context, we were closer to the leaders here compared to last year’s Rally Australia, where we finished sixth, and this year’s Rally Sweden when we secured our best-ever WRC result to date with a fifth place,” Paddon said.
Driving for the Hyundai Mobis World Rally Team, Paddon and Kennard started Sunday’s short leg of just three special stages in a solid seventh position. But the struggle to find pace on worn tyres meant the Kiwis were forced to settle for eighth overall.
Paddon said: “Firstly, I would like to say thanks to the team for fixing the car after our issues with a rock at the end of Saturday, which allowed us to get back out this morning. Our objective was to push through until the end, which we did with no real dramas.
“The long middle stage this morning was tough. From the start, we found it difficult with different wear rates on the tyres, which felt like the car was continually trying to turn ends on us. The two Fafe stages were amazing with a great atmosphere from the crowds. I have never done this stage before, unlike some of the other drivers, and it was certainly a special feeling from inside the car.”
Paddon describes the new look Rally Portugal as “a very nice rally, a variety of challenging stages and changeable grip levels, and huge crowds which made it a pleasure to drive here”.
Paddon and Kennard finished the event’s final three stages with the eighth, seventh and ninth fastest times respectively. The weekend’s highlights included a second fastest stage time on Friday and while Paddon hoped for a couple more top three stage times, badly worn tyres, an overshoot, and Saturday’s issue with a rock stymied his plans.
“I think there are a lot of positives we can take out of the weekend and being competitive against our team-mates is certainly promising moving forward. Our benchmark is always our team-mates and this weekend we were the fastest Hyundai on six of the 14 stages and finished less than 30 seconds behind the leading Hyundai, Dani Sordo, who secured sixth. This alone is the measurement we are using to gauge our performance and gives us good confidence moving forward.
“Once we get a few upgrades and work on our driving a bit more, I think we can be a lot more competitive in future rallies and this gives us a lot of confidence for Rally Sardinia coming up in June.”
Paddon now returns to his European base in Frankfurt and Kennard to his Marlborough vineyard, where the two will continue their preparation for the Italian WRC round running 11 to 14 June.
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.