New Zealand’s leading rally drivers Hayden Paddon and John Kennard each have their own special reason to look forward to next week’s Neste Oil Rally Finland, the third of their FIA World Rally Championship events with Hyundai Motorsport.
For Paddon, the Finnish rally is the European WRC event with which he has the most experience – this will be his fifth time competing on the event famed for its blisteringly high speeds and heart-in-the-mouth jumps as competitors blast through the smooth gravel roads of the Jyväskylä region’s forests and lakes.
For Blenheim-based co-driver John Kennard, Finland is his second home as the vineyard co-owner spends some of each year in the summer house he shares with his partner not far from the rally route. It was also the first WRC event he ever contested as a co-drover.
Paddon is looking forward to getting back in the Hyundai i20 WRC which he and Kennard fine-tuned this weekend as part of the team’s official pre-event test.
“With every event I’m certainly gelling more and more with both the car and team,” Paddon said. “We have done a good test for this event and have really have focused on the suspension. The rest is about developing my driving style. It will be nice to also be back on an event I know well and I hope that will help us.”
Based in Jyväskylä, north of capital Helsinki, this year’s Rally Finland runs from Thursday to Sunday and has just three of last year’s special stages remain in exactly the same format. The new-look itinerary with 26 stages and 360.94km of competitive stages begins on Thursday evening with a short, sharp leg north-east of Jyväskylä. Heading south-west, Friday’s route is the longest with the last of its nine stages not starting until 8.30pm – although still in daylight. Saturday includes big jumps over some of Finland’s most well-known stages, and Sunday’s short loop features two passes over the classic Ruuhimäki test, one of which will be the power stage. Earlier in the week, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning are spent doing reconnaissance before Wednesday evening’s qualifying runs on the 4.62km Ruuhimäki stage.
Paddon says with pace notes and experience from previous years, he and Kennard a good base to work with for two-thirds of the stages.
“The others are stages that are new to us but generally a Finland stage is a Finland stage – they all have similar characteristics. You have to love the jumps and blind crests to do well here, and I also enjoy the fast nature of the stages – they suit me down to the ground.”
In terms of goals, he comments: “Firstly we want to continue our progression forward which we measure by means of seconds per kilometre to the leaders and our Hyundai Motorsport team-mates. Everyone will be very fast here so if we can again score points and continue developing then it would be perfect.”
The same three Hyundai driver pairings that the team ran in Poland are entered for the Finnish event: the Belgium duo Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul in the #7 Hyundai i20 WRC and the Finnish duo of Juho Hänninen and Tomi Tuominen in the #8 car are the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team entries, while Paddon and Kennard drive the #20 car which is the Hyundai Motorsport N entry. The three Hyundai pairings are among 16 WRC competitors tackling Rally Finland this year.
It’s fair to say that this year with Hyundai Motorsport is Paddon’s dream job.
“It’s amazing and surreal to be in a WRC car competing at the top of world rallying, but furthermore it’s great to be part of this project with Hyundai Motorsport in their first season in the sport and seeing the progress and development of the car every time you drive it. To be involved in that development process with this incredibly hard-working team is something I really enjoy.”
As the team continues to develop the Hyundai i20 WRC rally cars and its overall WRC programme, Paddon continues to work on both his physical and mental fitness to find those vital milliseconds of performance improvement. Together Paddon and Kennard are also helping other New Zealand competitors develop their potential in this challenging sport with co-driver mentee Malcolm Reed, from Hamilton, joining the team in Finland.
“We’re looking forward to Malcolm Read joining us on event to learn the ropes and work with John to continue his learning process. Malcolm will assist with our gravel notes and John has already taken Malcolm under his wing to start passing on his wealth of knowledge as a WRC co-driver.”
Paddon and the HPRG team appreciates the support of their exclusive partners VINZ New Zealand, PlaceMakers and Pak n’ Save along with associate support from Z Energy, Hyundai New Zealand, Scott Sports and New Balance.