Hayden Paddon is maintaining his focus on learning and adapting as he and co-driver John Kennard face the challenging heat, altitude and long stages of their second WRC event of the year, Rally Guanajuato Mexico.
Drawing confidence from his career-best fifth place at Rally Sweden earlier in February, New Zealand’s top rally driver says he’s looking forward to being back on gravel, the surface with which he’s most familiar, in his regular #20 Hyundai i20 WRC car.
“It will be good being back on the gravel, but our biggest challenge is that this will be our first time doing this event – an event that is relatively unchanged from year to year. Even though we did recce here last year, that familiarity which other competitors have with this route will be a hard gap to bridge,” says Paddon upon arrival in the rally’s host city León, 400km north-west of Mexico City where the event runs from 5 to 8 March.
Paddon says his fifth place in Sweden – while stepping into his team-mate Dani Sordo’s car from his usual #20 car due to Sordo’s injury – provided another opportunity to learn and improve.
“It was a good learning exercise in that no matter how bad things may feel at the time, you just need to focus, put your head down, try not to make any mistakes and you never know what the end result may be.
“So despite the good result in Sweden, we remain focused and realistic for the first few rallies of the year. While we do have a base of notes to work with from last year’s recce, it’s a little difficult as we have not driven the notes at speed, so there is more work to do during recce this coming week to visualise speeds and lines, and translate that into our pace notes. Mexico often has a high attrition rate, so if we can push at a comfortable pace and avoid problems, then a good result could be on the cards.”
Hyundai Motorsport fields their usual team in Mexico with Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul in the #7 Hyundai i20 WRC, Dani Sordo now cleared to compete with co-driver Marc Marti back in the #8 car and Paddon and Kennard returning to their # 20 Hyundai Mobis World Rally Team car.
“It’s great that Dani is back with the team for this event and being back in our #20 car means we have full flexibility again with the settings on the car. As always we will be competing primarily with our team-mates, so that’s the first target.”
With last year’s recce providing valuable first-hand experience of the 24 special stages, covering 395.21 competitive kilometres, Paddon adds: “I do enjoy the nature of the roads here, a mix of fast and technical. The altitude of the route which takes us into the Sierra de Lobos and Sierra de Guanajuato mountains north and east of León to over 2700 metres above sea level is the biggest handicap though for all the cars, with up to 20 per cent power loss expected.”
Immediately after the Swedish event, Paddon joined the Hyundai Motorsport team in Spain where he spent two days testing the #20 Hyundai i20 WRC to prepare for the gravel roads of Mexico.
“We started with our base gravel set-up from late last year and focused on improving some key areas that we have struggled with, particularly the understeer. We found a really good compromise and also, in terms of my driving style, quite a time difference between our new settings and the old settings. So these are positive gains and most importantly I feel more comfortable in the car than ever. Of course the proof is in the pudding once we get on event but from a test perspective it was one of the best yet.”
Between events, Paddon also spent a few days at Formula Medicine in Italy, working further on both physical and mental aspects. “Particularly on the mental side, I have been developing some new techniques with the trainers to help me hit that ‘sweet spot’.”
With a new engine upgrade on all three cars, Hyundai Motorsport heads to Rally Mexico in second place in the WRC manufacturers’ standings and Neuville second in the drivers’ standings. Although it’s one of the most compact events of the season, competitors must tackle three of the longer stages – the 44 km El Chocolate, the 43 km Otates and Sunday’s monster 56km Guanajuatito stage. The rally gets underway on Thursday with a live short street stage in Guanajuato followed by one super special at a local race circuit. Temperatures nearing 30°C put stress on engines and transmissions as the crews contest eight stages on Friday, another eight on Saturday and three stages on Sunday.
Paddon and the HPRG team appreciates the support of their exclusive partners, Hyundai New Zealand, PlaceMakers and Pak n’ Save, along with associate support from Z Energy, Scott Sports, New Balance New Zealand and All About Signs Timaru.
Hayden Paddon’s 2015 WRC schedule with Hyundai Motorsport
WRC Round 2: Sweden, 12-15 February
WRC Round 3: Mexico, 5-8 March
WRC Round 4: Argentina, 23-26 April
WRC Round 5: Portugal, 21-24 May
WRC Round 6: Italy, 11-14 June
WRC Round 7: Poland, 2-5 July
WRC Round 8: Finland, 30 July – 2 August
WRC Round 9: Germany, 20-23 August
WRC Round 10: Australia, 10-13 September
WRC Round 11: France, 1-4 October
WRC Round 12: Spain, 22-25 October
WRC Round 13: Great Britain, 12-15 November