Motorsport: Paddon upbeat after latest shakedown

By Eric Thompson

Kiwi pair faster than rivals in practice and fifth fastest in Argentina’s first stage.
Fifth-placed Hayden Paddon showed his form in   Mexico last month. Photo / Hyundai Motorsport
Fifth-placed Hayden Paddon showed his form in Mexico last month. Photo / Hyundai Motorsport

After cleaning up at the opening round of the New Zealand Rally Championship at Rally Otago, Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard are in Argentina this weekend for round four of the World Rally Championship.

The Kiwi pair are fifth in the championship are just one point behind teammates Dani Sordo and co-driver Marc Marti and a hefty 48 points from series leader Sebastien Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia.

Heading into the race weekend Paddon is encouraged by his performance in the shakedown where he was more than a second faster than his rivals.

However, in a post session interview with WRC, Paddon was at pains to suggest it was practice and not the rally itself.

"Shakedown wasn't that representative of a lot of the rally," he said.

"It's quite a slow stage and much of the rally is very fast. The surface was similar but it's difficult to gauge what the car is like in the fast sections until we get in there.

"It's very, very fast and you need to be really committed to the pace notes and carry a lot of speed in the fifth and sixth gear corners.

"The surface seems reasonably hard-packed at the moment, but I think we'll find in the second pass it's going to chew up after all the rain they've had here and it will become like train tracks with the ruts."

During the first stage the New Zealander posted the fifth fastest time 0.7secs behind Sordo and Ogier who tied for fastest.

This is Paddon and Kennard's third visit to Argentina where in 2011 they won the PWRC category before going on to win the title.

Last year two incidents severely damaged the car, but he was also rewarded with some top five stage times and finished 16th overall.

"All the preparation and everything is going to plan and we're pretty happy at the moment. Some of the stages are from last year and some of the newer ones [2016] we did in 2011. In saying that, 2011 is a long time ago and the roads will have changed since then," Paddon said from Argentina on the eve of the event.

The rally is one of the toughest on the calendar and has a reputation of a bit of a car breaker. Heavy rain in the weeks prior to the race has meant a lot of the roads will be damaged and hard on tyres.

"When we won the rally in 2011 it wasn't with outright speed. It was by managing the rally, staying out of trouble and not damaging the car. It was the same last year when Chris Meeke won by being clever and trying not to break the car.

"It probably one of the roughest and toughest rallies of the year and you have to treat it with respect, which I probably didn't do enough of last year, but I've learnt from that and will be concentrating on having a good clean rally," he said.

There is no testing for rallies not in Europe, so the Hyundai Motorsport team headed to Northern Portugal in April to get some road time to try to prepare the cars for Argentina. Over the four days the crew worked on set-ups and reliability.

"Rally Otago doesn't give us an advantage, but getting seat time is good.

The cars are obviously different and the roads were fast and flowing, not like here.

"The car is pretty much the same as it was for Rally Mexico. We made a few small changes to the dampening and strengthened the suspension," said Paddon.

The rally is held in the Villa Carlos Paz region 700km from Buenos Aires.

The roads are normally sandy on the first pass but become heavily rutted by the time the second pass comes around.

Drivers will also have to contend with a number of river crossings and the possibility of ice and fog on some of the mountain stages.

"What stands out about this rally are the atmosphere and the hundreds of thousands of spectators that line the stages.

"In terms of the roads, it's not really my favourite rally but we will put that behind us and try and bring home another top five result," said Paddon.

- NZ Herald

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