New Zealanders Hayden Paddon and John Kennard have started their first-ever event in a world rally car, successfully completing the opening night of three competitive stages of Rally RACC/Rally de Espana to finish the first leg ninth overall.
The Kiwis’ WRC debut with the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team in a Ford Fiesta RS world rally car at this weekend’s penultimate round of the 2013 FIA World Rally Championship was made more challenging by the first three stages being run at night on tight, twisty tarmac roads.
Paddon was itching to get started following the long wait all day Friday (central European time) before the rally’s official start ceremony in front of the magnificent Barcelona Cathedral at 6pm and then the first competitive stage just after 8pm. Paddon and Kennard are running 12th on the road, the starting order determined by championship positions. As this is their first event as a WRC / Priority 1 driver pairing, they were the final crew of the 12 WRC pairing to run through Friday’s three stages.
Sounding relaxed and focussed when speaking to reporters from WRC Live when he completed the first 21.26km stage with the eighth fastest time, Paddon said there were a couple of things on the car which he was still getting used to.
“I found it hard to get a sense of the speed, being a night stage, but it’s great,” said Paddon.
Paddon’s time of 11m 45.2s for the opening tarmac test put him squarely between Qatar/M-Sport team-mates Evgeny Novikov and Mads Østberg driving similar Fiesta RS world rally cars.
Paddon and Kennard were also eighth quickest through the second stage – the 24.14km El Montmell – with Paddon commenting: “It is quite difficult in the night. It’s hard to judge the braking points and the speed. But I’m enjoying it, loving every minute of it. We’re not pushing and are struggling a bit with the balance so we’ll make a few changes and keep moving.”
After a nearly two hour gap, the third and final stage of leg one was run with Paddon and Kennard securing the tenth quickest time to finish the leg ninth.
Clearly intently focussed on doing all he can to maximise his performance, Paddon told WRC Live: “We’re definitely enjoying it, but obviously not getting as much out of it as we’d have liked to. We’re struggling with a lot of under-steer and can’t carry the corner speed. We’ve made a few changes after each stage and think we’ve improved it but it’s still a long way off at the front of the car. We need to try and make some improvements for tomorrow.”
Having returned to the service park in Salou after 11.30pm local time, Paddon is expected to start Saturday’s six tarmac stages 10th on the road, i.e. in the order of their provisional classification after the first day. Saturday’s itinerary includes two runs of the monster 42.04 km El Priorat stage which combines very fast tarmac and twisty, narrow sections. Then, with the M-Sport technicians converting his Fiesta RC WRC from tarmac to gravel spec during Saturday evening’s 75 minute service, Paddon heads onto his preferred surface for six more stages on Sunday. The start order will be established as per the rally classification at the finish of SS8. The event finishes in Salou around 4.30pm on Sunday.
Volkswagen driver Sébastien Ogier leads Rally Spain overnight with team-mate Jari-Mati Latvala second and Citroën driver Dani Sordo third.
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.