Hayden Paddon and John Kennard scored their fourth top-five result of the World Rally Championship season so far with a strong run to fifth overall in Coates Hire Rally Australia.
The two Kiwis, competing in the #8 Hyundai i20 WRC rally car for the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team at this round, had high hopes for a podium finish at this event, the closest to a home rally for the New Zealanders.
Having held third place overall after Friday’s opening loop of four stages, their hopes were dashed by handling issues and the pair finished Friday in sixth. Bouncing back with his trademark determination, Paddon blitzed the field on Saturday morning’s first two stages to secure two consecutive WRC stage wins – and take his career WRC stage win total to seven. While tyre management was critical, Paddon concluded Saturday handily placed in fifth. With a faultless run through Sunday’s final five stages, Paddon and Kennard were pleased to finish with a competitive fifth place.
Paddon said: “It was a solid final day for us and a pleasing end to a positive weekend. I was happy with our pace today and enjoying driving the car. We were a bit in no man’s land with a big gap in front of us and an equally big one behind, so we concentrated on bringing the car home in fifth – picking up important points which has helped the team to consolidate second place in the manufacturers’ championship.
“While we didn’t get the podium that we wanted, to be realistic, with the Volkswagens and the speed that they have, I don’t think we had a chance of being on the podium unless one of them fell by the wayside.
“Once that we sorted the front differential problems on Friday, the speed’s been quite good and the car’s been really nice to drive.
“We had a particularly good morning on Saturday with two stage wins but overall I have been happy with the car and my own performance. Last year we were three minutes off the lead, this year we were only one minute. We’re well ahead of our team-mates so there are a lot of positives to take away from the weekend.”
Paddon and Kennard were supported in Australia by hundreds of New Zealanders on an official supporters’ tour and independent travellers, as well as more than a few Australians trying to claim the pair as locals.
“It has been great to see so much support from the Kiwi fans,” Paddon said. “It gives me such a buzz and makes Rally Australia a special event. Thanks also to the team for all their hard work this weekend.”
Paddon’s fellow Hyundai Shell World Rally Team driver Thierry Neuville completed the event in a solid seventh place while Dani Sordo, driving with Paddon’s usual #20 on his Hyundai, finished eighth in his debut run at this version of Rally Australia and claimed a trio of stage wins on the opening morning.
Team principal Michel Nandan said: “We have fulfilled our pre-rally target of retaining second place in the manufacturers’ championship, which is the most important thing. Rally Australia is a very demanding event and we have worked well as a team to help get everything out of the car.
“Hayden had a strong weekend. He wanted a podium but he wasn’t far off with two stage wins and a competitive performance throughout the weekend, so he can be proud of himself. Thierry picked up more championship points and Dani also acquitted himself well on unfamiliar stages.
“We can be reasonably satisfied with the event although we are always looking to reduce the gap to those at the front. We now move back to Europe where we will push hard in the final three events of the season with second place in the Championship our number one objective.”
Paddon’s fifth place finish moves him back into ninth place in the 2015 WRC drivers’ championship standings.
After a brief visit home to New Zealand, Paddon will return to Europe to compete in the final three WRC events of the season in France, Spain and the UK.
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.
Media release by Kate Gordon-Smith/Relish Communications