A sixth-place finish in the 2017 edition of Rally Argentina wasn’t the result Hayden Paddon was hoping for, but successfully completing the tough event he won last year has at least inched the Kiwi into seventh equal place on the FIA World Rally Championship drivers’ points table.
Paddon said: “You could not have written a script more opposite to what we had here last season. We’ve gone from a career high to a result that is much lower on the scale. I just can’t believe our luck.”
Paddon and co-driver John Kennard had a clean run through Thursday (ART) night’s 1.75 km super special stage in the streets of Cordoba city which opened the rally, setting the seventh quickest time.
But Friday’s gravel stages didn’t pan out as planned. “It started off quite alright in the first couple splits in the first stage and the car was feeling good. But then, it got quite rough and we got caught in a slow hairpin left and the car sort of caught a rut and very slowly rolled over, which caught us out by surprise.”
The pair lost over two minutes to the front-runners as they pushed the car back on its wheels and got going again. After dropping to19th overall after that stage, the pair steadily climbed back up the leader-board to finish the morning in eighth place.
Two stage wins, one with a first equal time with rally leader Elfyn Evans, showed the Kiwis had some good pace on Friday afternoon’s repeated loop. They finished Friday in seventh, but with a two-minute gap to Jari-Matti Latvala in sixth.
“Our issue on Friday was long behind us as we started to show some improved performance,” said Paddon. “There was not much we could do about our position but we wanted to build a rhythm.”
However, a broken rear roll-bar hampered Saturday’s performance and meant they incurred a one-minute time penalty for being late into a time control checkpoint. Despite that, Paddon was pretty happy with his pace as he secured two third-fastest stage times to wrap up the day.
“Not too bad a day today,” said Paddon following Saturday’s competitive stages. “This morning we had to battle with a bit of road cleaning, so we were quite happy with our speed considering. This afternoon we wanted to push and be a bit more competitive, but unfortunately a broken rear roll bar put a damper on that and we had to do the best with what we had. We know where the pace is and we’re quite happy with the speed considering. We’re back on the pace and that gives us a bit of confidence moving forward to tomorrow and future gravel rallies.”
But after the final three stages on Sunday, all Paddon could say was: “I didn’t have the feeling with the car in this morning’s stages, and that culminated with a power steering problem in the power stage. We struggled to the finish but sixth place is not where we want to be.”
There was more positive news for Hyundai Motorsport, however, with Thierry Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul taking their second rally win of the 2017 season. The result marks the team’s second win in a row after Tour de Corse, and its fifth WRC victory in total. Not only is it the first time that Hyundai Motorsport has secured back-to-back successes, the Belgian crew also become the first repeat winners of the 2017 season. Meanwhile the team’s third crew, Dani Sordo and co-driver Marc Martí, struggled to overcome a 11-minute time loss from a broken steering arm on Friday, bringing their car home in eighth.
Paddon and Kennard return to Europe for the next WRC event, Rally Portugal, running 18 to 21 May.
Paddon and Hayden Paddon RallySport Global (HPRG) Ltd appreciates the support of their exclusive partners, Hyundai New Zealand, Pak’nSave and Z Energy, and associate sponsors Scott Sports and All About Signs Timaru.