Motorsport: Paddon has steely focus on road ahead

By Eric Thompson

Hayden Paddon and John Kennard showed rivals their wheels in the tough Rally Argentina last month. Photo / Timo Anis
Hayden Paddon and John Kennard showed rivals their wheels in the tough Rally Argentina last month. Photo / Timo Anis

World rallying sensation Hayden Paddon will be under the media microscope this weekend at round five of the World Rally Championship at Rally de Portugal.

The New Zealander arrived back in Europe two weeks ago having won his maiden WRC round at one of the toughest events on the race calendar - Rally Argentina. By taking the top spot he became the first Kiwi to win a race in the top echelon of rallying and propelled himself to second in the championship behind Sebastien Ogier.

With ever the cool head and a focus that could burn through steel, Paddon is at pains to reiterate that it's the rally he'll be concentrating on and not his elevated media status as a championship contender.

"There's certainly a lot more attention and a lot more expectation as well," said Paddon. "At the end of the day I'm preparing for this rally in exactly the same as any other rally. My mindset for the weekend is also the same as it always is.

"I've got my own goals and objectives to achieve this year no matter what the outside influences might be and whatever the pressures may be.

"When I get in the car I'm focusing on doing the best job we can and concentrating on that alone."

Paddon and Kennard had a successful two-day test in Portugal in the run-up to the rally but are wary that the conditions will not be the same this weekend.

"Things have been going well so far and everyone's very motivated. We had a good two-day test two weeks ago and we're ready.

"It was quite wet during testing and in Portugal when that happens the roads turn to ice. So it was quite difficult to get any set-up for the rally as it's predicted to be dry.

"It was still a good test to get a feel for the car and refine a few things," said Paddon.

Having got the WRC round win monkey of his back, the flying Kiwi is confident he and the team will be able to push on and be in the hunt for more points now they're back on familiar territory. Rally Portugal is the start of a series of races in Europe that sees Paddon and Kennard contesting some of their more favoured rallies - Italy, Poland, Finland and Germany.

"The rally will be a challenge as they've had a very wet winter here in Portugal. The roads have become quite soft and sandy. I think we're going to see on the second run through the the stages that the roads will have become very rutted and quite rough.

"On the plus side the rally is exactly the same as last year. Normally you get a few stages that are brand new but not this time. We've refined our notes from recce and the video to confirm the small changes that happen to roads each year," said Paddon.

Abiding by the age old adage that if it isn't broken don't fix it, the Hyundai Motorsport Team are leaving the car pretty much alone and have only introduced a few minor changes to the i20 WRC car.

"We've done nothing dramatic to the car since Argentina. We've worked on some new suspension settings but nothing major. Obviously when you come off the back of wining a rally you're looking to make massive leaps with the car.

"We're looking for baby steps with continuous and steady developments," he said.

Paddon and Kennard will start second on the road behind three-time WRC champion Sebastien Ogier due to their second place in the drivers' championship.

The position means his first pass on each stage will be tricky due to the loose surface sand. The plan will be to stay within striking distance of Ogier, despite the rally not being one of the really fast events where Paddon excels due to his single-minded focus of pushing the car to its limits.

However, Paddon and Kennard have made great improvements in performance when it comes to the more slower and technical rallies and will continue to do so in Portugal.

- NZ Herald

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