New Zealand rally driver and reigning Production World Rally champion Hayden Paddon will be glad to see the end of the 2012 FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship.
Paddon and co-driver John Kennard got their S2000 campaign off to flying start leading the race for the title after the first four rounds and looked good for back-to-back world titles. After the New Zealand round, which they won, the wheels well and truly came off the hunt for the title.
In Finland, the mechanical gods decided to turn their backs on Paddon, Kennard and the rest of the team, and this and a few uncharacteristically driver errors affected the team. Only picking up 16 points out of a possible 100 from four rounds was never going to be enough to keep the likes of Craig Breen (championship winner), PG Andersson and Yazeed Al Rajhi at bay.
As the dust settled in Spain over the weekend, Paddon had to settle for fourth in the title race after yet another mishap on the opening day.
Not all was lost though. The very professional Paddon took the opportunity on Saturday and Sunday to showcase his talent on the tarmac roads where he was consistently the fasted S2000 driver, winning five of the six stages on the last day.
"In all honesty it is a season that I am happy to see the back of, after a series of setbacks throughout the year," Paddon said. "However, I have learned a lot and we have been able to set some good stage times on all rallies that we have competed in.
"We were able to set some more good stage times today, particularly on the longer stage where we took a lot of time out of the rest of the S2000 field. We were hoping to do the same on the repeated run in the afternoon, but unfortunately a puncture stopped us from doing so."
Over the weekend Paddon won 11 of the 13 stages in SWRC he and Kennard completed, and recovered to 20th overall. Friday began badly for the Kiwi pair, when in very wet, muddy and slippery conditions Paddon slid off the road and became stuck in a muddy ditch doing no damage to the car.
Most of Paddon's stage wins were on tarmac that he still regards as his least-favourite surface.
The stage times set by Paddon and Kennard in their Skoda Fabia S2000 regularly had them sitting in the top 12 or 15 overall among the WRC cars. At times Paddon was faster than their self-imposed benchmark opponents, the Volkswagen factory drivers Sébastien Ogier and Andreas Milkenson in similar Skoda S2000 cars.
"While the overall result was not the best, we have been happy with our speed, especially considering it has been what I would describe as a 'risk-free' speed," Paddon said. "I'd like to add my huge appreciation to our supporters group that travelled here to Spain to be with us. It has been a real boost having their support and seeing the New Zealand flag waving on the stages. Thanks also our team Baumschlager Rallye & Racing, our shareholders and everyone who has supported John and me in our SWRC campaign this year."
Paddon and the team at Hayden Paddon RallySport Global now continue to work hard on plans for next year.
"In terms of our plans for next year, it is still a work-in-progress. I hope that our speed this weekend has helped, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done."