Motorsport: Hayden Paddon - Hard roads lie ahead

By Eric Thompson

Hayden Paddon predicts Monte Carlo will be the the most challenging rally on the calendar. Photo / tWorld
Hayden Paddon predicts Monte Carlo will be the the most challenging rally on the calendar. Photo / tWorld

As you read this, New Zealanders Hayden Paddon and John Kennard will be flinging themselves around the roads of Monaco at Rallye Monte Carlo for the opening round of the World Rally Championship.

It's the first time the duo have contested Monte Carlo and will also mark Paddon and Kennard's first full WRC season, having missed the opening gambit last year.

Hyundai Motorsport are again fielding three cars and retained last year's drivers, Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville. This weekend Sordo and Neuville are debuting the new i20 WRC car while Paddon attacks the stages in his car from last year.

The flying Kiwi is not worried about contesting the event in his old car, in fact, he's rather chuffed to be racing in something he knows well and feels comfortable in.

"Obviously we want to get our hands on the new car as soon as possible, but for a rally like this we want to use it as a learning experience for the future," said Paddon after recce.

"In that sense it doesn't really matter what car we're in. Being in a familiar car will make the learning curve a little easier and we know what we can do in it. We have to be realistic but it's still a hard pill to swallow - by the time we get to Sweden we'll be able to push much harder."

It doesn't seem so long ago that Paddon was celebrating a great first season in the top echelon of rallying after finishing fifth in Rally GB at the end of October. With testing and the development of the new car he's not had a lot of down time, but as a professional racecar driver he's chuffed to be back doing what he does best.

"The seasons sort of merge together these days. It's good, though, as you don't feel rusty when you get back in the car. This is the first time I've gone from one full year straight into another and I'm certainly not complaining," he said.

The Monte Carlo rally is the gala opening event to the season (since 1973) and first took place in 1911 when Prince Albert I decided it was a good way of "demonstrating improvements and innovations to automobiles".

It's as demanding today as it was when first held and this year's 84th running will be no different.

"It's going to be a tricky rally and probably the most challenging on the calendar. The conditions aren't probably going to be as bad as in previous years but they are still going to be challenging.

"It's great to be able to finally tick this one off, but of all the events it'll probably be my least favourite and is all part of the learning process.

"The thing that makes this rally so unique is that it's not about all-out attack. Because of the changing conditions and surface you have to make compromises with car set-up and tyres. Parts will be bone dry, parts icy and some snow as well.

"It's all about adapting and making the best decisions you can. These are not the conditions I'm comfortable with and so can't push as hard as I would like. We just have to be patient and learn as much as we can.

"We've already seen very changeable conditions with ice and snow in the morning and in the afternoon it had all melted. It's a shame, as I like the tricky icy conditions as the driving technique is more like gravel than tarmac."

Not content to just go rallying, Paddon and his support crew want all their fans to engage in the experience, and as such will be launching a new website and ways to keep fans posted throughout the season's rallies.

Other initiatives include pre-event Facebook question-and-answer sessions and post-event Twitter question-and-answer sessions. Fans can find photos of the day/rally on Paddon's Instagram account.

There will also be a 14-episode season-long video series for beginners or existing competitors to motorsport. Topics will range from getting started to finding sponsors, improving yourself and working with teams.

2016 WRC schedule

Round 1 Monte Carlo, January 21-24

Round 2 Sweden, February 11-14

Round 3 Mexico, March 3-6

Round 4 Argentina, April 21-24

Round 5 Portugal, May 19-22

Round 6 Italy, June 9-12

Round 7 Poland, July 1-3

Round 8 Finland, July 28-31

Round 9 Germany, August 18-21

Round 10 China, September 8-11

Round 11 France, September 29-October 2

Round 12 Spain, October 13-16

Round 13 Great Britain, October 27-30

Round 14 Australia, November 17-20

- NZ Herald

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