Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard are ready for rally season
The New Zealand rally season has rolled around again and Hayden Paddon, along with co-driver John Kennard, are putting the finishing touches on the team's rebuilt Stadium Cars Evo9.
As well as getting ready for the opening round of the NZ Rally Championship (April 6-7 at Rally Otago), the pair continues to work on plans to compete in the FIA World Rally Championship later this year.
The car being fettled in readiness for the open event on the national rally series is the same one Paddon and Kennard won two national titles in. The car was extensively damaged in a monster crash at the end of 2011 and has had over 1000 hours of loving labour put into its repair.
Paddon says the ability to build the car to different regulations under this year's NZRC rules helps keep things interesting.
"We've rebuilt the car to FIA WRC R4 rules and will run in the four-wheel-drive Super Rally category against drivers like Richard Mason, Emma Gilmour and Andrew Hawkeswood," says Paddon.
"In R4 spec, the car is lighter and faster with different suspension and has further chassis developments and a bigger turbo restrictor. It's interesting to have the opportunity to learn and develop this car in its new configuration, alongside the work we're doing to get back into WRC competition."
The NZRC ruling body has radically changed the technical rules this year, introducing new classes including the top class that is almost a "run what you bring" category, which a number of the top teams have entered.
This class is not an FIA recognised category and Paddon is running his R4 spec car in this group, so may just have his work cut out.
The thinking behind this new classification is to get more folk to go racing in anything they find in the back shed, or to build some new rocket ship from scratch. While the sentiment is valid, reducing pathways for young drivers getting into the WRC in a class they have already competed in may come back to haunt them.
"I'm not really convinced it's a good idea not to have classes that fit within the WRC rules. In my opinion it's not the right way forward. You have to have some sort of formula and path forward for young drivers who want to go overseas other than in Fiestas," says Paddon.
"I can see what they're trying to do and get more cars out of the sheds. But you need some rules to control cost otherwise it just becomes chequebook racing.
"The concept of the Super Rally class isn't too bad, it just needs a few more rules to keep costs and stuff under control a bit more.
"Of course the target is to win but we're up against cars that are a lot more powerful. However, with this new Super Rally category, most competitors are starting from scratch with new cars, or significant componentry changes on their existing cars so it could level the playing field out a bit."
The pair is keen to hit the gravel roads of Otago and go racing. Paddon and Kennard have won both the Otago and Whangarei events twice, but have never contested the Daybreaker event.
"The best thing is that I'm back on the road, getting seat time with John. Otago and Whangarei are two of my favourite events and it's always fun to go to new events like the one-day Daybreaker.
"It's great to have our old team back together and for Otago, some of the stages are only about an hour from home in Geraldine, so that's pretty cool."
Kennard, who's co-driven for Paddon since 2006, is just happy to be getting back in a car with Paddon.
"I haven't even been near a rally car since Spain last year, so that's too long." says Kennard. "It's going to be great, back competing at the sharp end of the NZRC in a complying car, although the class now contains some weird and wonderful machinery compared to last time we were there."