I was privileged to be invited along to the first test of the new Hyundai i20 AP4 rally car with Hayden Paddon and John Kennard yesterday, Tuesday 29th march 2016.
An early start saw a thick covering of mist over the forest, but with a decent sunrise it wouldn’t be long before this would burn off leaving a beautiful autumn day.
As everyone started arriving, it will be no surprise to those of you that know Hayden, that he was the first person out of his car and mucking in to setup the service area, erecting the EZY-up and unloading wheels etc. I believe this is one of the reasons Hayden is so popular, as despite his rising Superstar Status in WRC, he is very humble and appreciative of everyone around him and completely willing to muck in, not just turn up and drive.
Once the car was unloaded and parked up, it was time to have a quick look around it. What a great looking car this is. Force Motorsport have done a magnificent job in building the new style AP4 car. These new 4WD cars will definitely bring the “WRC look” to gravel roads across New Zealand this year.
From what I understand there will be several AP4 cars being campaigned in the New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) this year. Hayden Paddon will run this car at Otago and the International Rally of Whangarei, Glenn Inkster in his new Skoda and Andrew Hawkeswood, the man behind Force Motorsport who is currently building these AP4 cars, will run his new Mazda 2. Hayden Paddon will be releasing more details tomorrow (Thursday 31st March 2016) about the technical aspects of these cars, so head on over to his Facebook page for more information on this.
As usual at any kind of test day, there is a lot of waiting around when you are a photographer. After a few quick photos around the car, there was a small window to drive out into the stage, knowing that once in, there would be no coming out until officially told it’s safe to move.
After locating a safe place to leave the car, it was now time to find some good places to shoot from. Unfortunately, the harsh morning sun created some very bright patches of light amongst the shade of the trees. Not ideal from a photography point of view, as well as sunstrike issues for the drivers.
Hayden and John were only a few minutes away, so not a lot of time to get setup. In no time at all the car could be heard echoing through the forest. It certainly sounds cool. At this moment, Hayden came blasting into sight throwing heaps of dust and rocks. The speed was impressive despite this only being a “sighter” run to set a base time to be used for safety, as the road being used was an up and back, rather than a loop.
The next run past was even faster. The car looked like it handled well and was responsive. The suspension seems to absorb everything in its way without unsettling the car too much.
As the day continued there were a few delays while tweaks were made to the car, which appeared to really help as the speed during the afternoon runs was epic! I almost forgot to take photos a couple of times as I was just staggered by the speed and commitment.
The great news is that we can all get to see this car in action with Hayden and John in it at least twice this year. If you’re in the South Island, make the effort to get to Otago on the 8th-10th April. If you don’t fancy chasing the rally around the countryside, there is a special stage right in the city of Dunedin accessed off Anzac Avenue.
If you’re in the North Island, you will be able to see the team in action during the International Rally of Whangarei on the 29th April – 1st May. Again, if you can’t or don’t want to chase the Rally, the cars can be seen at Pohe Island on Friday night.
These two rallies are on the best roads in New Zealand, and if you’re able to go and watch in the stages I can’t recommend it enough. The more of us that make the effort to go out and support these events, the better our chances of seeing Hayden and John back here in 2017 in a WRC car.
Now how cool would that be?!