Sporting an attitude of keep-your-head-down and keep-on-working-and-learning, Kiwi rally stars Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard are one of three Hyundai Motorsport crews heading to the FIA World Rally Championship’s penultimate round, Rally Spain, next week.
The 24 to 26 October running of RallyRACC-Rally de Espana will see Paddon and Kennard contest the event for the fourth time, a fact that provides a welcome level of experience to balance against the fact it’s the New Zealanders first tarmac event in the Hyundai i20 WRC car.
Based in the coastal city of Salou, Rally de Espana is the season’s only mixed surface event with Friday’s opening leg predominantly gravel and the second and third legs entirely asphalt.
“Spain is a rally I really enjoy and the tarmac stages are the closest that you will get to a race track – fast, wide and smooth,” says Paddon, after testing the cars on tarmac with his Hyundai Motorsport team-mates Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo in Spain this week [13 October].
“It’s a pleasure to drive a WRC car on these roads, and we were lucky to have debuted in a WRC car here last year, so that experience will help us a lot as John and I have good pace notes that we have worked on over the last couple of weeks.
“Also, having the gravel stages on day one this year will make the transition easier – it’s easier to go from gravel to tarmac in terms of your driving compared to vice versa.”
With four strong finishes in the four events he’s contested under the Hyundai Motorsport N banner this year, Paddon is maintaining his focus on achieving a credible result in Spain.
“This will be our first tarmac rally with the Hyundai i20 WRC, so we are a little behind Thierry and Dani who have both recently done two tarmac events in Germany [with a historic 1-2 finish for Hyundai] and France and are both regarded as tarmac specialists.
“I really enjoy this rally and while we have always set good stage times here – and finished eighth here last year on our WRC debut – earlier attempts didn’t always deliver good results.
“So we would like to challenge to be in the top seven, while keeping in mind that with 16 WRC entrants, the competition here is huge. There’s no doubt our two teammates are perfect benchmarks against which to judge our performance.”
Another factor for Paddon and Kennard to take into account are the new spec Michelin asphalt tyres that other WRC regulars used for the first time in France earlier in October. Michelin upgraded its Pilot Sport rubber in both soft and hard compounds to add to the wet weather version that became available in August.
Paddon says: “The biggest change with the car is the new Michelin tarmac tyres which have been designed to work in the wet and dry. During our recent one-day test, the performance of the tyre impressed me, but it is certainly moving around more which means we are sliding more, so we have had to make some chassis adjustments. But we now have a good feeling for the car and new tyres on tarmac.”
The 50th RallyRACC-Rally de Espana sees sixteen WRC crews registered, including American X-Games and stunt-driving star Ken Block, who makes his sole championship appearance this season in his Fiesta RS. WRC entries are spread across four manufacturers, with a total of three Hyundai i20s (Thierry Neuville, Dani Sordo, Hayden Paddon), seven Ford Fiesta RS cars (Mikko Hirvonen, Elfyn Evans, Robert Kubica, Yuriy Protasov, Ken Block, Henning Solberg, Martin Prokop), three Volkswagen Polo RS (Sébastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala, Andreas Mikkelsen), and three Citroën DS3s (Kris Meeke, Mads Østberg, Khalid Al Qassimi).
Based in Salou, the event starts on Thursday 23 October with the first special stage an evening street stage on roads that hosted the Spanish Grand Prix F1 race on four occasions in Barcelona. Friday’s opening leg of three stages driven twice totalling 138.54 km, is predominantly gravel but with some asphalt in the long Terra Alta test. Teams then convert their cars from gravel to asphalt specification after the opening leg in a longer than usual evening service. Saturday’s 159.16 competitive kilometres include two runs of the 50 km Escaladei stage created to celebrate the rally’s 50th edition – it’s the longest stage in the event’s history and one which could make or break a driver’s rally given the abrasive nature of the asphalt roads, which if hot, require careful management of tyre wear. Two stages, repeated, create Sunday’s 72.06 km route to wrap up the rally.
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.