The dust has finally settled following the final round of the 2016 WRC – with Rally Australia. It was a rally we had been looking forward to for a long time and the huge Kiwi support made it a special event for us. Unfortunately what should have been a podium finish was dashed by a puncture on the final day, but 4th for the rally and 4th for the championship is nothing to turn our nose up at.
We took a lot of lessons from the rally last year and put them into practice this year. The target going into the rally was to focus on a good performance, and while this was not quite up to my high standards, it was an improvement on last year. There are still key stages and road surfaces that we are struggling on that we must address before next season – as at this level you simply cannot afford to have ‘off’ stages.
We always targeted Friday as a ‘setup’ day, Saturday as ‘moving’ day and Sunday as ‘consolidation’ day. The plan almost played out well. At the end of day 1 we were P4, 22 seconds back. While we would have liked to be a little closer it was still a position we could fight back from, which we did on Saturday morning. The bulk of Saturday was made up of 2 runs of the iconic 50km Nambucca stage. On the morning pass we had a good run (despite huge dust inside the car) and we leaped from 4th to 2nd in 1 stage – while also halving the gap to the leader. In the afternoon we knew tyre consumption was going to be a big problem in the 30-degree air temps, and we know from 2015 that you cannot not attack the stage in order to keep the tyres for the whole stage. So for the first 25-30km we took a more steady approach, but unfortunately we took it a little too easy and despite a fastest final spilt of the stage, we lost 7 seconds which halted our charge.
Going into the final day in P3 and just 12 seconds from the lead, we had to keep the pressure on the 2 VW ahead. While we missed a little speed, we were not content to settle for a safe 3rd, as in the future settling for position will not win you championships. So we had a go, and unfortunately it bit back as we ran a little wide, touched the bank slightly on the outside, which pushed the wheel off the rim. We continued through the final 20km of the stage with a puncture, dropping nearly 1 minute and from 3rd to 5th. We were able to then recover to 4th by the rally end. While it was a missed opportunity of a podium, we have no regrets as we wanted to give it a nudge to maybe climb further up the leaderboard. More importantly there were a lot of lessons taken from the weekend, which will help us come back stronger next year.
While we would have hoped for a little more from the second half of the year, we can be proud that we have been consistent and have shown significant improvements on each event and stage compared to last year. 2018 is the focus, and if each year and rally we can continue to make the planned steps, then we will be on target. Of course none of this would be possible without our amazing Hyundai Motorsport team who I am forever thankful to. Also our close-knit support team of my co-driver John, Katie, Engineer Rui and our car mechanics, our NZ partners Hyundai New Zealand, Z Energy and Pakn’Save and everyone involved within HPRG. There are too many people to thank, but a HUGE THANK YOU to each and everyone. This is a team sport!
A huge thanks to all the Kiwi’s that travelled across the Tasman to support us – including our tour group of 110. Its really a special feeling representing your country and seeing the same enthusiasm and passion that we have for our sport shared by so many other people. We look forward to hosting many more guests at different events around the world in the future. A huge thanks to Katie who worked tirelessly putting the tour together, along with the on-event help from Chris and Jackie Paddon, Greg Murphy, Clint Brown, Richard Fincham, Adam Chung, Lyndon Galbraith, John Machell, Mark Best and Mal Clunie.
After Rally Australia, the WRC hosted a Gala dinner in Sydney. Unfortunately due to some PR commitments, we were unable to make it, but it was humbling to win the Certina Timing Award for our performance on the final stage of Rally Argentina. Its quite an honor to be recognized and thanks to everyone that voted. Also congratulations to John who on the same day won Marlborough Sports Person of the year.
We now have a huge couple of months ahead – and the word ‘offseason’ seems to be quite misleading, as it is anything but! We have a lot of PR activities here in NZ, the Young Driver NZ Shootout next month, more details soon being released about the Paddon Rally Foundation and of course returning to Europe for winter testing in preparation for Monte Carlo. We will as always keep you posted.
Finally a big congratulations to Tony Munford who won our limited edition Rally Australia cap by signing up to our newsletters.
Huge thank you to you all for your continued support. We will have more news, which we will update you of before the end of the year.