New Zealand’s top rally pairing Hayden Paddon and John Kennard are in fourth place after two days of action at RallyRACC Catalunya – Rally de España, and are keen to push for a podium position.
The pair completed Saturday’s (European time) eight tarmac stages just 16.2 seconds adrift of Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville, but know it’s a big ask to catch Neuville who has more experience on this surface than they do.
“It’s been a good day on tarmac today,” said Paddon of Saturday’s action. “Okay, we struggled a bit for pace in the morning, but were able to make some changes at lunchtime to increase the pace in the afternoon which put some pressure on for the podium.
“Now we’re in fourth [with Neuville and Paddon elevated up the leader-board when Andreas Mikkelsen crashed on stage 12], with a gap of about 16 seconds to our team-mate Thierry. When you’re trying to chase down someone like him on tarmac, it’s a bit of mountain to climb. But we’re close and we certainly won’t give up. We’ll do some more homework tonight and make some more changes and try and keep the pressure on tomorrow.”
The Kiwis finished Saturday on a high, second quickest in the 2.24 km super special stage which wrapped up the day’s action in the host city of Salou. They were just 0.1 seconds off Neuville’s time, who took the stage win. The close result was a big deal for Paddon “…as I have struggled with these [short super special] stages all my life.”
Earlier in the event, during Friday’s rain-affected and therefore muddy gravel stages, Paddon and Kennard also had to contend with technical issues in their New Generation i20 World Rally Car. They started the day strongly, leaping up the leader-board to third overall with a second quickest time through the day’s opening 12.50km stage. But issues with the anti-lag system hampered what Paddon had hoped would be a chance to perform strongly on the gravel roads.
Of Friday, Paddon said: “A difficult day, unfortunately. Near the end of the first stage we struck a technical problem we had to carry for the rest of the day. Basically it meant we’re down on power with no throttle response. We tried to manage it the best we can, but with no service it means we’ve had the problem all day. To be in P5 is probably still lucky, but it’s very frustrating because it could have been very good. The car’s been feeling good, even though the conditions have been quite tough.”
Paddon and Kennard mark 100 rallies competing together as they contest the mixed surface Spanish FIA World Rally Championship event. Their partnership started in 2006 when Paddon was just 18 years of age and has resulted in several history-making achievements such as this year’s rally victory in Argentina to become the first-ever New Zealanders to ever win a WRC round.
Paddon’s team, Hyundai Motorsport, is nicely placed to add another podium to its 2016 successes on Sunday afternoon with Dani Sordo second behind rally leader Sébastien Ogier, Neuville third and Paddon fourth. It’s one of the team’s strongest all round performances with young Kevin Abbring’s top-eight position adding to an impressive display.
Team Principal Michel Nandan commented: “Dani has put up a brave fight today against the charge of Sébastien Ogier. We know what Ogier is capable of so the fact that Dani was able to defend his lead for much of Saturday showed an admirable performance. We end Saturday with all three New Generation i20 WRC cars in with a shout of a podium finish, which would be a great result for us. I’d like to commend our mechanics for an outstanding job last night to prepare all four cars for today’s asphalt stages. We have had a trouble-free day, although we recognise there is still scope to improve the balance of the cars in these conditions. From a championship perspective, we’re looking at a healthy collection of points if things stay like this but we will still push for the win tomorrow. Anything can still happen at the front – so we’ll be there to capitalise if it does.”
RallyRACC Catalunya continues on Sunday (European time) with just four stages on tarmac to wrap up the event.
Paddon and Hayden Paddon RallySport Global (HPRG) Ltd appreciates the support of their exclusive partners, Hyundai New Zealand, Pak’nSave and Z Energy and associate sponsors Scott Sports and All About Signs Timaru.
by Kate Gordon-Smith/Relish Communications