Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard have finished their first event in a world rally car in a very credible eight place. The top ten placing highlights the New Zealanders’ sheer determination to finish Rally RACC/Rally de Espana on their first event in the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team-prepared Ford Fiesta RS world rally car.
Paddon and Kennard started day three, Sunday, of the Spanish mixed surface event in ninth place, having set the eighth-quickest stage times on five of Saturday’s six tarmac stages and dropping back to ninth overall after a spin on Saturday’s final super special stage. With six stages and 138.54km of predominantly gravel roads to complete Rally de Espana, the Kiwis knew they had a long tough day ahead as they focused on their core goal of getting the car to the finish. The early morning gravel stages were made more challenging for all competitors with dust hanging in the still morning air and blinding low sunshine making visibility difficult.
Paddon, as befits a competitive professional looking to make his mark, not only hoped to finish, but to finish well, but describes the day as “trying”.
Paddon reports: “Moving to my favoured surface of gravel, I had high hopes to be competitive. However as we had never driven the car on gravel before it was going to be a tall ask – a fact we found out on the first corner of the first stage.
“The Ford Fiesta RS WRC is a fantastic car and really enjoyable. However in gravel spec today it felt different to anything I have driven before. The huge suspension travel meant the car was moving around a lot and I found it difficult to build any confidence and have a good feel for the car.”
Paddon’s stage times – varying from 11th to eighth-quickest – kept him comfortably in ninth overall, but he wasn’t in a position to challenge experienced WRC campaigner Martin Prokop in a similar Fiesta running in front of him. The demise of Citroen’s Dani Sordo allowed Paddon and others to move up the leader-board.
Paddon continues: “During mid-day service we made many changes to the car to help me get more of a feeling. These did improve things for the afternoon as we closed the gap to the front runners, although still the car felt very foreign. Other than losing the brakes on the last stage, it was a relatively clean day for us.”
The 26-year-old from Geraldine in New Zealand’s South Island is already reviewing his performance, keen to improve and be ready for any future opportunities in the FIA World Rally Championship.
“Of course it is good to get to the finish as that was obviously one of our goals, but this rally has all been about progression, and we have learnt a lot from it,” Paddon said. “We improved on tarmac from 1.5 seconds per kilometre to 0.6 seconds per kilometre behind the stage winner and on gravel we improved from 2.6 seconds per kilometre to 1.1 seconds per kilometre. And we know exactly where the time lose is, which comes down to seat time and testing to overcome.”
In terms of the future, Paddon added: “There is still a long way to go and we’re currently unsure what the next step will be. We definitely want to be in a world rally car next year – this experience has taught us that we need more seat time to be competitive, and we’re sure we can be. Now we must continue to work hard, evaluate this event, learn and become stronger from it.”
Paddon concluded: “Nevertheless it has been an amazing experience this weekend to be involved with M-Sport and we have enjoyed every minute of it. Our thanks for all the support we have had, especially from those at home – it has been humbling.”
Rally de Espana was won by a resurgent Sébastien Ogier with Volkswagen team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala second and Citroën’s Mikko Hirvonen third. The Qatar World Rally Team and Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team drivers in their Ford Fiesta rally cars accounted for 60 per cent of the overall top-ten. Thierry Neuville, finishing fourth, still holds a strong second place in the Drivers’ Championship and faces a battle with Latvala at the final WRC round in Wales in November. Evgeny Novikov was fifth, Mads Østberg sixth and Paddon’s eighth place completed the M-Sport prepared Fiesta line-up in the WRC’s top ten in Spain.
Paddon and his team appreciate the support of Pak ‘N’ Save, VINZ, Giltrap Group, PlaceMakers, Z Energy, Stadium Cars, Telecom New Zealand, CP-Carrillo, Saddle Hill Quarries, Heartland Potato Chips, New Balance, Scott Sports, Total Automotive Timaru, Coxy’s Panel Repairs, Resene, All About Signs, Reaction Racing, In-Tune Automotive, Racetech, Chicane, Endless Brakes, Nichibo, Choice at Team Ralliart, Andar The Front Store, MCA Suspension, Tyre General, Dunlop, Pope Print, Bluebridge Ferry, ION, and 1Group.