Kiwi rally driver Hayden Paddon and his British co-driver Seb Marshall have secured a well-deserved fourth place at Rally Finland, their best ever result at this iconic World Rally Championship event, which ran 26-29 July.
For his ninth run in Finland, Paddon’s pre-event goal was to be in the top five early on so he could fight for a podium finish. With Hyundai team-mates Thierry Neuville and Andreas Mikkelsen out of contention, Paddon drove to team orders to secure the best possible manufacturers’ championship points for the team, which remains in the lead of the manufacturers’ World Rally Championship standings. Paddon’s performance was very consistent with 16 top five stage times in the event’s 23 special stages and his fourth place equals Hyundai team’s best-ever finish in Finland.
The event got underway on Thursday evening with a super special stage in central Jyväskylä (the rally’s host town), where Paddon was ninth fastest on the mixed surface test.
Running 11th on the road among the 12 WRC competitors for Friday’s leg, Paddon was able to take advantage of his starting position, jumping up to fifth the classification from the opening 20km test and staying among the top five all day until he was able to gain a 9.7s advantage on Teemu Suninen to hold fourth by day’s end.
Of Friday’s action Paddon said: “I think we can be pretty happy with our opening day, even if we could have probably taken a few more risks. We didn’t want to overdo it, because we were focused on getting the set-up right for the whole weekend. In the morning loop, we had to adapt to the conditions and our pace notes were a bit slow in places. From there, we started to enjoy the car and the stages more. We’ve been consistent, had good pace and that’s allowed us to stay in touch with the leading three. We’ve now got to build on this over the next two days.”
Saturday’s eight stages, with a competitive distance of 142.86km, was the longest individual day of the rally. Running ninth on the road (the start order for Saturday being determined by reversing the event standings at the end of Friday)
Paddon held fourth on the leader-board for much of the day despite some brake issues and high tyre wear in the hot conditions – something all drivers contended with. On the day’s penultimate stage, fifth-placed Esapekka Lappi’s stage-winning time took the Finn past Paddon on the leader-board. Paddon and Marshall pushed hard on the day’s last 14.90km test to set the third-quickest time – their best stage result of the day – but as Paddon said: “”He’s been going pretty fast, we had a problem with a tyre on the last one but give him credit he’s flying here. It was a good day today and we’ll push on tomorrow.”
In summing up Saturday Paddon said: “Our objective today has been focused on looking at the manufacturer points that we would achieve with our current position. We wanted to keep the Fords behind us, as Lappi would not be eligible for manufacturer points as things stand. There was not much we could do to keep him behind – he’s a man on a mission! We have had to take it easy and just try to do a solid job for the team. I’ve continued to feel comfortable in the car, and the changes we’ve made on the front differential have really made a difference. The hot conditions have punished the tyres in the afternoon, but I am pleased to be up there with Finns on their home turf and drivers who have won this event before.”
With 11 WRC cars starting in reverse order, Paddon was seventh on the road for Sunday’s final four stages and netted three top four stage times.
Paddon said: “On the whole, I’m really happy with the weekend. We have been able to keep pace with some of the event favourites, maintaining a consistent performance. Naturally, we would have preferred to score a podium, of course, but we took a measured approach to secure important points for the manufacturers’ championship. The final morning was all about taking it easy to bring the car home with a comfortable gap behind us. I’ve really enjoyed the stages this weekend, the car has been a joy to drive and it has given me the confidence I need. We are back on the right track.”
Paddon moves into 12th on the WRC drivers’ championship table.
Paddon’s Hyundai Motorsport team-mates Thierry Neuville and Andreas Mikkelsen finished in ninth and tenth overall respectively, with Neuville still leading the drivers’ classification by 21 points.
Paddon’s next rally with the team is the new-to-the-WRC Rally Turkey in September, while the next WRC round is Germany in August.
Paddon and Hayden Paddon RallySport Global (HPRG) Ltd appreciate the support of their exclusive partners, Hyundai New Zealand, Pak’nSave, Winmax Brake Pads and Z Energy.
by Kate Gordon-Smith/Relish Communications