New Zealanders Hayden Paddon and John Kennard have ably demonstrated their continued improvements on the world stage of rallying by taking their first stage win on a FIA World Rally Championship event.
Contesting RallyRACC-Rally de Espana with Hyundai Motorsport, Paddon and Kennard set a time of 15 minutes, 26.6 seconds on special stage three, a 26.59 kilometre gravel stage, which was 2.1 seconds faster than the second-quickest competitor, defending world champion Sébastien Ogier.
“To win our first stage is obviously very special,” says Paddon who moved into third overall after the stage win. “It was particularly unexpected. We had a good run in SS3, but there was a lot of dust for everyone and we were just trying to push through all that. But still we’re very happy to get first stage win and be sitting in third [at that point].”
The Kiwis showed great pace all day, taking advantage of running 11th on Friday’s six predominantly gravel stages, a repeated loop of three stages to the west of host city Salou, while Ogier was at the front of the field, clearing gravel.
However, the day’s longest stage, the mixed surface 35.68 km Terra Alta, threw up challenges for the Kiwi duo and they finished the day in 14th place.
“It’s been a good day, some ups and downs obviously. It was great to get our first stage win – another achievement ticked off the list – and overall our times and speed have been very good. We’ve been among the top six and within only two or three seconds of winning other stages as well, so we’re very happy with the speed and stage times.
“Okay, we had problems on both runs through the long stage; this morning a double puncture which cost us six minutes and then this afternoon, a spin which cost us 30 seconds.
“From a results point of view we’re sort of down a bit but nevertheless it doesn’t change our targets – we’re here to set stage times, we’re here to learn and we’ve just got to keep pushing hard tomorrow on the tarmac and keep trying to do that.”
Paddon’s Hyundai Shell World Rally Team team-mates Dani Sordo (#8 Hyundai i20 WRC) and Thierry Neuville (#7 Hyundai i20 WRC) have also been among the front runners during the opening stages of this weekend’s 50th Rally de España. Neuville challenged Ogier for the rally lead for much of the day but, like Paddon, had to stop and change a punctured tyre in the day’s longest stage. Overnight, Sordo is seventh and Neuville is ninth.
Having converted their cars from gravel to asphalt specification after Friday’s opening leg in a longer than usual evening service, teams face 159.16 competitive kilometres of high speed tarmac on Saturday. The route 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.
One of 15 WRC crews contesting the penultimate event of the 2014 WRC season, Paddon and Kennard start Saturday third on the road – the start order being a reverse of the overall classification after day one where Ogier holds a 36.6 second lead over Latvala.
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.