Motorsport : Rally Whangarei has real star power

By Eric Thompson

Co-driver says fast tracks for opening round of Asia-Pacific champs will suit Paddon’s style perfectly and he’ll be tough to stop.
John Kennard says the tracks in Argentina were like racing on riverbeds compared to the blissfully smooth surfaces in Whangarei.
John Kennard says the tracks in Argentina were like racing on riverbeds compared to the blissfully smooth surfaces in Whangarei.

The maestros of car control are at it again this weekend on the best rally roads in the world for the opening round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship at Rally Whangarei.

New Zealand's first and only World Rally Championship round winner Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard flew in from Argentina earlier this week and are raring to take on the fast and flowing northern gravel roads.

Rallying is unique in motorsport in that it needs two people in the cockpit working in very close harmony for the car to have any chance of going fast.

With circuit racing the track configuration, and to a certain extent the track surface, remain the same year in and year out. Drivers will have done thousands of laps over time, and for any newbies you can see where you're going anyway.

Rallying on the other hand (bar a few tarmac events each year) is held on gravel roads that goats would have trouble negotiating.

Most years the roads change and the surface changes day-to-day, let alone year-to-year.

Rally drivers don't get to practice each stage again and again; also, during recce they are restricted as to how fast they can go.

Therefore, for the person behind the steering wheel it's quite handy to know if the blind corner you're approaching at barely comprehensible speeds to mere mortals goes either right or left. Or, if the car is going to be launched 20 metres in the air.

That's where the second most important part of the car - other than the engine of course - the co-driver comes in. Every rally driver in the world from a WRC world champion to a club racer will categorically say they could not do their job without the continuous stream of information coming from the person sitting in the passenger seat.

Such is their importance to the overall success of a team, nine-time WRC world champion Sebastien Loeb said in a Herald interview when the WRC was last in New Zealand that his long time co-driver Daniel Elena was an integral part of his long and illustrious career.

"He is an important part of course just like all the team. We have started together, we have won everything together," he said.

Kiwi rally star Paddon has also been at pains to say how much Kennard has contributed to his rally success over the years, and as such the Herald sought his thoughts as a preview to the International Rally of Whangarei this weekend.

"It's one of the best rallies in the world and we love coming to it. The roads are absolutely stunning and we [Paddon] were saying out on the stages that you forget just how good they are," said Kennard after recce.

"There's nothing like it anywhere else in world especially having just come from Argentina, which was like racing on river beds.

"Making notes is so much easier and I won't have to tidy up 90 per cent of today's notes and I can use them as they are. It's not like the stages in Argentina where you have to rewrite almost all of them."

Kennard reckons Paddon will be in his element this weekend as he likes the fast, flowing nature of the Kiwi roads where he can push hard. The roads up North are technical, but not in the demented way they are in a number of overseas events.

"There's a bit of gravel on the roads but we start ninth so the roads will have been swept. They are in fantastic condition and the only thing that could make them better would be a little bit of rain.

"The car has had very little to be done to it since Otago. The engine lacks a little bit of torque, but that's something we can change. The stages here encourage you to attack and go as fast as you can. The combination of Hayden and the [Hyundai i20 rally car] will mean he'll be hard to race against.

"Hayden gains in the faster stuff where you really have to commit, more than in the twisty stuff. It'll be interesting to see how much he does actually gain in tighter section," said Kennard.

Not only did the pair set a New Zealand record as the first to win a WRC round, in doing so Kennard set a world record as the oldest (57) co-driver in WRC history to stand on the top spot of the podium.

"It was sort of on my radar and I was certainly very hopeful that I would some day be that position [world record]. There's only one more box to tick [world title] now and I hope I can hold on long enough to get that as well," said Kennard.

- NZ Herald

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