Top Kiwi rally pairing Hayden Paddon and John Kennard have continued their strong performance during the third day of Neste Oil Rally Finland and now hold sixth place overall with just one short day of the event left to run.
The Kiwis are contesting their third event with Hyundai Motorsport in the 2014 FIA World Rally Championship and having started Saturday’s long day of ten competitive stages in seventh place overall, they were perfectly positioned to take advantage of Citroën driver Mads Ostberg’s retirement to take another step up the leader-board. They’re also the leading Hyundai crew, holding a 28.8 second advantage over the Finnish duo of Juho Hänninen and Tomi Tuominen in the #8 Hyundai i20 WRC car.
Paddon and Kennard ran sixth on the road for Saturday’s 130.36 timed kilometres on some classic gravel rally roads west of Jyvaskyla, with the day’s start order being determined by reversing the leader-board order. This resulted in some slippery conditions at times during the morning’s first loop for Paddon and team-mate Hänninen who was running fourth on the road.
Speaking at the lunchtime service break, Paddon said: “It wasn’t too bad a start today. We had a couple of half spins on the second stage (SS15) which unfortunately cost us a bit of time. But other than that we’ve been holding our own. We’re still holding the gap behind and to keep seventh is quite good at the moment. We need to make a few setup changes and I’m trying to change my driving style a bit today and drive more smooth and precise, also a bit more committed, but haven’t quite got the confidence with the front of the car. We’ll make some changes and hopefully we can improve this afternoon.”
With Ostberg’s Citroën ruled out by stewards due to rollcage damage, Paddon headed out for the afternoon’s repeated loop of five stages already in sixth position and determined to consolidate the position.
On the 21.93km special stage 20, Paddon and team-mate Hänninen shared the same time of 10m 22.8sec.
“I pushed and the time was good,” Paddon told the wrc.com reporter. “Normally when I push it goes the other way! A lot of big rocks on the line and some of them you have to just drive over and cross your fingers.”
With a fifth quickest time in the next stage, Paddon and Kennard comfortably held sixth place to day’s end and improved their times on each of the five stages.
Wrapping up the final long day of Rally Finland, Paddon said: “It’s been a really good day today. Particularly this afternoon, we’ve been able to push a bit harder and find another level with the driving after the team made some changes at lunchtime service and the car responded well in the afternoon loop. The times have been quite good and it’s particularly pleasing to maintain the gap to Juho behind us on his home rally.
“I’m obviously pleased to be in the top six but we have three more stages tomorrow so we’ll have to push a bit more to defend from Juho, who has also had a good day. The most important thing from my perspective is that I feel we’ve learned a lot this weekend and I think I’ve made a really good step forward with the driving. Okay, there’s still a long way to go and a lot to improve on, but we’re certainly going in the right direction.”
Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “Juho and Hayden have both had satisfying runs on this penultimate day of Rally Finland. We began the morning knowing that conditions would not be ideal given our earlier starting positions on the road. Both drivers reported slippery conditions, as we expected, but they adopted a sensible approach and delivered what we needed. We made some slight set-up adjustments at lunchtime service which helped them both improve in the afternoon and it is good to see Hayden in sixth and Juho resurgent in seventh place overall. We’re focussed on getting both cars to the end of this rally but we are also hoping to make further improvements to the performance of the Hyundai i20 WRC and to learn all we can from this demanding event.”
Rally Finland finishes on Sunday with just three stages, including two passes over the classic 4.62km Ruuhimäki test, one of which will be the power stage.
Paddon and the HPRG team appreciates the support of their exclusive partners VINZ New Zealand, PlaceMakers and Pak n’ Save along with associate support from Z Energy, Hyundai New Zealand, Scott Sports and New Balance.
Neste Oil Rally Finland – Overall Classification after Day Three
Position, driver/co-driver (vehicle), total time or difference to leader
1. J.M Latvala / M. Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) 2:40:33.6
2. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +3.4
3. K. Meeke / P. Nagle (Citroën DS3 WRC) +32.4
4. A. Mikkelsen / O. Floene (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +1:20.8
5. M. Hirvonen / J. Lehtinen (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +2:14.4
6. H. Paddon / J. Kennard (Hyundai i20 WRC) +3:36.6
7. J. Hänninen / T. Tuominen (Hyundai i20 WRC) +4:05.4
8. E. Evans / D. Barritt (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:47.2
9. C. Breen / S. Martin (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +8:33.1
10. H. Solberg / I. Minor (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +10:49.8