Hayden Paddon says he's looking forward to continuing to improve his performance on tarmac surfaces as he and co-driver John Kennard compete in the German World Rally Championship round this coming weekend.
The 18-21 August running of ADAC Rallye Deutschland, the first of four consecutive tarmac WRC events, represents the fourth time the Kiwi pair has competed in what's regarded as the most difficult asphalt event of the season, but it's only the second time Paddon and Kennard have competed in Germany in a WRC car.
"Last year it was a dive into the unknown with our relative lack of experience on tarmac," said Paddon after testing his New Generation i20 WRC car on a set of closed tarmac roads with Hyundai Motorsport in Germany. "I think my driving on this surface has improved a lot in the last 12 months. It was a good test here and I'm learning all the time."
Paddon's preparation for the 306.80 km of competition in the Mosel region has included track time in a GT car with the help of French asphalt-specialist rally driver Nicholas Bernadi and further practice on a racing simulator.
"I have to be realistic and open minded to learn. I have competed in something like 150 gravel rallies in my life and maybe only seven tarmac rallies. It does require a different driving style and technique and this is something I need to adapt to. The recent track and simulator work has helped a lot."
Paddon says Rallye Deutschland is like three rallies in one. "With the stages varying from narrow vineyard lanes, fast public roads and the bumpy Panzerplatte military area, as well as localised weather generally playing a part, there are lots of challenges to be wary of.
"Saturday will be the key day with two passes through the 40 testing kilometres of Panzerplatte. We have seen in the past big gaps emerge here and, with most other stages being shorter, this will be a key test of the rally. There are a couple of new stages but otherwise the route is similar to what we have done in the past.
"Overall, I'm looking forward to the opportunity to improve on tarmac. There is no pressure or expectations from myself or the team so the focus is improving for the future so we can start to mount a challenge on asphalt rallies next year."
Based in the city of Trier in the west of Germany, Rallye Deutschland features 306km of competitive action over 18 stages. Friday sees competitors tackle five tests, four of which are in the vineyards of Mosel followed by the new Ollmuth stage, just south of Trier. Saturday is the longest day of the rally with just under 150 competitive kilometres including two runs over Panzerplatte Lang at 40.8km each. Just four stages on Sunday are split between the Mosel vineyards and the Sauertal test in the Eifel hills near the Luxembourg border, which acts as the power stage for the second and final run.
The unpredictable late summer weather always makes tyre choice an important factor, placing a premium on up-to-date information from the safety note crews. To add to the complexity, road characteristics can vary significantly even within the same group of stages, meaning that set-up and tyre choice is often a calculated compromise on the low-grip surfaces.
Paddon and Kennard compete under the Hyundai Mobis World Rally Team banner in the #20 Hyundai NG i20 WRC, while team-mates Thierry Neuville is in the #3 car and Dani Sordo, who returns after an injury lay-off in the #4 car, are competing for the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team. Neuville and Sordo created a historic one-two finish for Hyundai Motorsport at Rallye Deutschland in 2014 and the team is looking to revive this form at their home event just two hours from their headquarters in Alzenau.