New Zealand’s top rally drivers Hayden Paddon and John Kennard have successfully completed RallyRACC-Rally de Espana with a solid ninth place finish in their Hyundai i20 WRC car.
The penultimate round of the 2014 FIA World Rally Championship, the 24 to 26 October Spanish event is the only WRC rally of the season that uses both gravel and asphalt stages.
The Kiwis were understandably delighted to take their maiden WRC stage win during Friday’s gravel stages, an achievement Paddon described as “unexpected”. And while their respectable times during the two days of tarmac tests didn’t keep them among the frontrunners, Paddon kept focused on trying to get the best from the Hyundai i20 WRC and his own performance.
“It’s great to get to the end and obviously getting back in the [WRC drivers’ championship] points is a bonus after what happened on Friday,” said Paddon from the rally’s service park in Salou, referring to the spin and two punctures which dropped Paddon and Kennard from third overall to 22nd, and necessitating a determined fight back up the leader-board on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.
“All in all it’s been a good weekend. We’ve seen some progress on gravel – with some quick times, including the stage win on Friday. I’m feeling really comfortable on the car in gravel which is a good sign for as we head for the end of year all-gravel event in Wales.
“On the tarmac, all three of the Hyundais have been struggling here unfortunately, as we try to adapt the car to the new tyre and we had a lot of understeer. Nevertheless we haven’t been far off our team-mates. Both Thierry and Dani, they were winning stages here last year, they’re a great benchmark for us. We still have a lot to learn and a lot to work on, but we’re heading in the right direction.”
Paddon’s Hyundai Shell World Rally Team team-mates Dani Sordo (#8 Hyundai i20 WRC) and Thierry Neuville (#7 Hyundai i20 WRC) were in close battles for fourth and sixth throughout the final day, eventually finishing fifth and sixth.
Sunday’s route comprised just four tests, two stages repeated. Unseasonably high temperatures ensured tough conditions for tyres and brakes. Paddon’s times on the repeated runs in each stage showed improvements over the first run.
“We’ve had a lot of understeer this morning which has been frustrating,” he said at the lunchtime service break. “We’ve been trying a lot of things and are trying some more. We know where the time loss is, we’re just trying to address it. The stages are a lot twister today, yet the setup suited the car and tyres better yesterday. Not a million miles away, only a few seconds away from Dani and Thierry but it all adds up.”
With 2014 being Hyundai Motorsport’s first season in the WRC, a critical part of Paddon’s role is to work with the team to gather information to improve the cars.
Paddon added: “We have gained a lot of information and experience. Yes, we have struggled with set-up on the tighter sections but we have all learned a lot to help improve our tarmac performance moving forward. It is good to finish in the top ten with no major issues on our only sealed surface event of the year.”
Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “We have learned a lot this weekend about our performance potential in these conditions. The drivers were pushing today but were suffering from understeer on all three cars. We know we have some work to do to improve the balance in the twisty sections but we have gathered a lot of data to help us. The team started the rally well with some strong performances and we made good progress on set-up with the new tyres as we moved from gravel to the tarmac sections over the weekend. We should also congratulate Hayden on his maiden stage win. We now need to focus on the next and last round of the season back on gravel.”
Paddon and the HPRG team appreciates the support of their exclusive partners VINZ, PlaceMakers, Pak n’ Save and Hyundai New Zealand along with associate support from Z Energy, Scott Sports and New Balance.