Motorsport: Paddon at rally Australia

By Eric Thompson

Kiwi battlers just can't afford to break anything

Hayden Paddon and John Kennard are aiming for a solid finish in their Skoda at this weekend's Rally Australia. Picture/Honza Fronek.
Hayden Paddon and John Kennard are aiming for a solid finish in their Skoda at this weekend's Rally Australia. Picture/Honza Fronek.

New Zealand World Rally Championship driver Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard were straight on a plane to Australia after finishing fourth at last weekend's Possum Bourne Memorial Trophy event in Pukekohe.

Rally Australia gets into action this weekend on the Coffs Coast in northern New South Wales, and Paddon is looking forward to getting back on the podium in the WRC2 class after finishing third in his two outings in Europe so far this year.

The former Production World Rally Championship titleholders had to sit out the beginning of this season, but soon were into the swing of things in Finland and Germany, finishing third in both events. More impressive is that the pair were in a normally aspirated S2000 car up against a host of the newer, turbocharged R5 and RRC cars.

"We were lucky to get home in the New Zealand as the car was pretty damaged and held together with some interesting bits and pieces. At the first service we didn't think we'd get out again," said Paddon.

"Our aim for this rally will be to try and win the WRC2 class. However, of the 10 cars entered we are the only S2000 and there will be some pretty tough competition, but we are confident we can fight at the front.

"These roads should also suit the Skoda pretty well and we'll be going for the class win, and we'd also like to finish among the top 10 overall among the WRC cars, as we did in Germany."

While every rally destination has its own local twist, coming from the snow, cold and wet of Europe to the dry, arid and dusty conditions of Australia will present its own challenges. Paddon and Kennard are in a car they have not raced in anger before but are confident they can get the best out it, as it's not completely unknown territory for them.

The rally began on Thursday with a ceremonial start followed by two runs of the mixed surface super special stage, which features two cars at a time making a simultaneous start on opposite sides of a former velodrome. Yesterday the cars repeated two loops of three stages to the southwest of Coffs Harbour and ended with two runs of the super special stage.

Today has just six stages, with two repeated loops of three stages to the north of Coffs Harbour and the official finish at 4pm.

"Everything went smoothly with the test. We checked all the systems in a car we haven't rallied before and made some set-up changes to suit local conditions," said Paddon.

"Here in Australia we're running the Skoda with our own New Zealand crew, which is pretty special as we're all good mates and have worked together throughout my career. The car's very close to the spec of the car John and I used to secure third place in Finland and Germany earlier this year.

"It's cool to have our own team running the car on an event which has been successful for us in the past.

"We've finished recce and the roads are looking good - a little rough in places and very dry and dusty.

"Some of the roads are quite nice and some are the same as two years ago. However, some of the new sections are a bit rougher and more technical, which is good, as it will keep us on our toes.

"The biggest issue will be the dust that is really thick and hanging. The locals have been saying it hasn't rained here in ages and we'll be hoping for rain, which is being predicted," said Paddon.

The team has to be mindful over the weekend of a limited supply of spares so it's a balancing act for Paddon and Kennard to decide when to push and when to realise discretion may just be the better part of valour.

"Of course, we'll be going for the win, but we're doing this on a pretty low budget so can't afford to break anything. This weekend will be about looking after the car in the rough sections because we don't have the parts to replace anything that breaks," said Paddon.

"There are a few sections that are smooth, where you don't have to worry about hurting the car - as long as keep it on the road, of course. Some of the rougher section strewn with rocks you can't push too hard and have to hold back a bit.

"It's all going to depend on where we are in the race. If we're ahead after the smooth stuff we can afford to back off a bit. If we're having a tight battle we won't have a choice and will have to push hard, hold our breath and hope for the best."

A good result this weekend will bode well for negotiations as Paddon and Kennard try to get a factory drive next year.

WRC2 points after nine rounds

1. R Kubica101

2. A Al-Kuwari93

3. N Fuchs78

4. S Wiegand67

5. Y Protasov65

6. R Trivino45

10. H Paddon30

- NZ Herald

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