Hayden Paddon and John Kennard, New Zealand’s only competitors in the FIA World Rally Championship, have moved up the leader-board to hold seventh place overall after day two of Neste Oil Rally Finland.
Competing in their third event with Hyundai Motorsport, Paddon and Kennard started Friday’s nine special stages with two very competitive, fourth-quickest times then continued to deliver consistent top ten times to finish the day the leading Hyundai crew.
Again running 13th on the road among the 16 competitors driving WRC cars, Paddon came in for the midday service pleased with the morning’s results.
“It was a much better morning after yesterday afternoon’s intense rain. We’ve been on new stages today and certainly that suits us a bit better when the others don’t know them so well,” Paddon said.
“I have to say we’re still struggling for a bit of rhythm and I’m overdriving the car in places so there are a lot of places we can tidy up and keep improving this afternoon. Overall, we’re moving in the right direction up the leader-board at the moment and that’s the most important thing. We’re enjoying the driving and making good progress.”
The afternoon’s stages were repeated runs through the morning’s four stages, followed by a quick blast around the 2.27km mixed surface Harju test in the heart of Jyvaskyla. On each of the four repeated stages, Paddon and Kennard’s times were faster than their morning times.
“It’s been a good day. We’re definitely very happy how the morning went on the first loop and we were able to set some good times. Being able to push and starting to find new limits to the car is good. This afternoon, we’ve been able to hold our own and I am feeling very happy so all in all a good day.”
Paddon’s Hyundai team-mate Juho Hänninen is also in the top ten overall, holding ninth place at the end of Friday with 13 stages still left in the event. However the lead Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville was forced to retire from the event at lunchtime after irreparable damage to his roll cage after an accident in SS5.
“Obviously, Thierry and Juho have had some issues today so we are the leading crew for the team, but we know there is a long way to go yet,” Paddon added. “We’ll just keep working hard to find the good rhythm, to continue improving tomorrow and learning all we can for ourselves and for the team in the process.”
Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “I’m happy with how Hayden has progressed today; he has shown promising times and pace which is especially impressive in only his third event with our team. We continue tomorrow with two cars in the top ten but it won’t be an easy day with the road positions [the running order is the reverse order of the provisional rally classification]. We will stay positive and continue our learning, which is the main objective.”
Saturday’s route sees competitors tackle two identical loops of five stages covering 130.36km including big jumps over some of Finland’s most well-known stages. The event finishes on Sunday with two passes over the classic 4.62km Ruuhimäki test, one of which will be the power stage.
Paddon and the HPRG team appreciates the support of their exclusive partners VINZ New Zealand, PlaceMakers and Pak n’ Save along with associate support from Z Energy, Hyundai New Zealand, Scott Sports and New Balance.