2nd Overall at Rally Sardegna
As you may already know, we have capped off an amazing weekend here at Rally Sardegna, finishing 2nd overall. It has not yet fully sunk in – but there is no time to savor as we are fully focused on our next event in Poland and to continue to improve.
Going into this rally I was confident that with the preparation and homework we had done – combined with the new paddle gearshift upgrade, that we could make a step up from Portugal. However, the more technical nature of the Sardegnan stages does not normally suit my driving style, but right from shakedown we felt at one with the car.
Come the start of the rally Friday morning, we knew that road sweeping would be an advantage for us with our low starting order – something we had to make the most of. I must also thank Jari Matti Latavala, as before the opening stage of the day we were unsure if to start with the hard compound tyres we already had on the car, or fit the two soft tyres that we had in the boot. Following his advice, we fitted the 2 soft tyres for the first two stages which surprisingly we won by a good margin.
Returning to midday service with a 20 second lead over the trio of Volkswagen drivers was a pleasant surprise but I was a little nervous how quickly they would catch us on the repeated afternoon loop when conditions were the same for us all. However, over the course of the 3 stages, we only lost 3-4 seconds to Sebastian Ogier, but then a puncture on the final stage cost us 10 seconds. Despite not winning any stages in the afternoon, we were more satisfied with this performance compared to the morning – keeping the others behind us and ahead of our teammates.
Saturday included stages more regularly used in this event and therefore stages that we had less experience of compared to the others. Again I was expecting we would be caught however come time to start each stage we kept focused on our own rally, driving at a good speed and making no mistakes. This paid dividends, and we slightly extended our lead out to 10 seconds by lunch. Come stage 17, we had lead the rally for 16 of the 23 stages – something that I thought would never be possible this early in the year.
Unfortunately the very rough conditions on Saturday afternoon slowed our progress a little. First a spin meant we lost the lead – however things worsened on the next stage after an impact with some bedrock on the driving line broke the gearbox mountings. This was a similar problem to what we have had, which we were able to do 50km of stages before retiring. This time we still had 80km to go before service!!!! I was absolutely gutted, as in the heat of the moment we both thought it was all over and we would not make it back to service. However, after getting to the end of the stage and taking a moment for the emotions to settle, John and I got to work using tie straps and other tools to try and secure things as best as we could. We nursed through the final 42km stage and amazingly 1/ got back to service and 2/ held on to 2nd. Just goes to show if you don’t give up that anything is possible. Sunday’s short final day was a matter of driving very slowly to make sure we brought the car and the result home.
Mentally it was quite a tough weekend. With the long road sections between stages it was very easy for the mind to wander and start thinking ‘what if we win this rally’ or ‘what if I make a mistake’. Luckily with some of the things we have learnt from training clinics I was able to keep a lot of it in check, and once we got the helmet on and into the stages – we just stayed calm and kept doing what come naturally.
While I don’t believe we would have been able to take the fight to Sebastian Ogier in a straight fight this weekend, I do believe we could have kept the pressure on. However we are extremely happy with 2nd, as much as we would have liked to challenge more for the win, I was not prepared to throw away a good result and a first podium. Since Friday lunchtime I had already mentally accepted a podium and we held onto the lead for a lot longer than I thought was possible.
A huge credit and thank you to the whole team – they have helped me to develop so much in the last 12 months and together as a team we are getting stronger. It was a great result for the team, a double podium with Thierry in 3rd. Dani had a tough weekend but he is a very valuable part of the team who has also helped me a lot. Also a huge thanks for the massive amount of support we have received from you and all around the world. It has taken a while, but we have read through all the social media comments, emails and texts – so again thank you. Finally a huge thanks to everyone involved in HPRG, all our partners including Hyundai NZ, PlaceMakers, Pakn’Save and Z Energy – we couldn’t do it without you.
While this result does raise my expectations for the rest of the year, we do also still need to stay realistic and keep our feet on the ground. The nature of the roads of the upcoming Poland, Finland and Australia suit me a lot better, however the competition in the WRC is so fast and close within the top 10 – that come rally weekend, everything must click. Our goal of top 5 for Poland and Finland remains, however for Australia maybe we can have a crack at competing at the front again. Between now and then we will keep working hard to keep improving.
What a huge weekend it also was for New Zealand motorsport, with Kiwi drivers Earl Bamber, Brendan Hartley, Mitch Evans and Richie Stanaway all do an amazing job at Le Mans. NZ motorsport is in a very good place at the moment and hopefully all this will help to grow our sport and also aid to get Rally New Zealand back.
Thank you again for all your support and look forward to keeping you up to date with our preparations for Rally Poland in 2 weeks time. Sorry for the long update – for more see www.facebook.com/haydenpaddonwrc