Hayden Paddon and John Kennard delivered a consistent performance to move up the leader-board and hold a solid ninth place overall in their Hyundai i20 WRC car at RallyRACC-Rally de Espana following their successful completion of Saturday’s six tarmac stages.
The penultimate round of the 2014 FIA World Rally Championship, running 24 to 26 October, is the first event featuring asphalt stages that the Kiwi duo has contested in 12 months. The Spanish event is the only WRC rally of the season that uses both gravel and asphalt stages.
Paddon says there’s plenty of learning going on being back on tarmac stages after the previous day’s excitement of taking his first-ever WRC stage win on the event’s first day of gravel tests.
“In a way, it’s been a bit more of a trying day today, back on tarmac for the first time in 12 months,” said Paddon from the event’s service park in the Mediterranean coastal town of Salou.
“Having said that, it’s been a good day of learning and we are moving up the leader-board. There’s been a little bit of adapting to with a new tyre this year as well, it means the car’s moving around a lot more and we are struggling with the front of the car for precision, which in turn is costing us corner speed. We know where the time is and we will change more of the setup overnight to keep trying to improve. All-in-all we haven’t been too far off our team-mates Thierry and Dani who are tarmac specialists and that’s certainly encouraging.”
Paddon’s Hyundai Shell World Rally Team team-mates Dani Sordo (#8 Hyundai i20 WRC) and Thierry Neuville (#7 Hyundai i20 WRC) also improved their overall positions with Sordo moving up to fifth and Neuville sixth.
Saturday’s six stages inland of Salou consisted of a short bumpy, narrow introduction to asphalt (SS8), then repeated runs on Escaladei (SS9 and SS11), the weekend’s keynote test of exactly 50 km of predominately undulating, fast and smooth roads until the final 7 km section on older, narrower roads with sharp edges, and the 26.48 km of Colldejou (SS10 and SS12), a very technical test on wide and narrow roads with many changes in pace. A 2.24 km slippery street stage along Salou seafront wrapped up the day (SS13). With fine weather and increasing temperatures, the heat played a key role for drivers and tyres – at 2.30 pm, the road temperature was 34 degrees Celsius.
Starting the day 14th overall, Paddon and Kennard set ninth and tenth quickest times during the morning’s stages to improve to 10th overall by lunchtime.
On the afternoon’s repeated run through Escaladei with the tenth-quickest time, he said: “We made some changes to the car in service. For the first third, it felt better but after that the tyres were hot and were moving all over the show. It’s the same for everybody I guess. The final section was especially bad, but we expected that.”
Continuing with their steady stage times, the Kiwis benefited from Robert Kubica’s mechanical issues to take ninth place and also made significant gains to reduce the margin to a struggling, eighth-placed Martin Prokop by day’s end.
Hyundai Motorsport Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “It has been a day of consistent improvement for all three drivers as we aim to refine our performance. Dani and Thierry have shown good pace while being careful to avoid the dangers on the dirty roads. Hayden has improved throughout the day as he has built his confidence in the car and the tyres. It has been interesting for us to test these tyres and to optimise the performance of the car in such difficult conditions. The rally, with mixed surfaces yesterday and the abrasive surface and high temperatures during this afternoon, has proved so far very valuable in gathering data as we continue our learning from the 2014 season. ”
On Sunday, the event wraps up with just 72.06 km of competitive stages – two runs through two repeated tarmac stages.
With all 15 WRC crews still running, Paddon and Kennard start Sunday seventh on the road – the start order being a reverse of the overall classification after day two where rally leader Sébastien Ogier holds a 27.3 second lead over Jari-Matti Latvala.
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.