Motorsport: Paddon revels in true grit

By Eric Thompson

The gravel roads of Wales Rally GB are a favoured surface for Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard. Picture / Vettas Media
The gravel roads of Wales Rally GB are a favoured surface for Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard. Picture / Vettas Media

Hayden Paddon is at one of his favourite rallies this weekend, Wales Rally GB. It's been a busy few weeks for Paddon and partner John Kennard, this being their fourth rally in five weeks.

The Kiwi pair are fourth on the championship table, just 13 points behind equal second-place drivers Andres Mikkelsen and Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville. Sebastien Ogier has already wrapped up the world title with two rounds to go.

This will be Paddon's fifth visit to the roads of the Welsh countryside and he's very pleased to be able to race on the all gravel roads he much prefers to tarmac.

Co-driver Kennard is also happy to be back on gravel and reckons the forestry stages remind him of similar rally stages at home.

"It feels like a long time since we've been on a full gravel rally [Finland at the beginning of August]. I'm really looking forward to these two events [Wales and Australia]," said Paddon from Wales.

"We're in a good place [with the car] at the moment on gravel and the car was good in Spain despite the technical issues we had.

"We don't have to chase the car too much as it's now just a matter of making sure all the preparations are good, the pace notes are good and we've fine-tuned the car during the shakedown.

"If we get all that right we'll be in a good place for the rally."

With a good run this weekend followed by a storming effort at the last round in Australia, November 17-20, it is entirely possible Paddon may be able to topple Mikkelsen and Neuville and finish his season in second place.

However, the flying Kiwi is not thinking about the championship just yet and will approach this weekend's event with his typical focus on setting fast stage times. Paddon has managed to fit in a bit of testing since the last event in Spain and is raring to go.

"We did some testing last week in the south of France and it went really well. We had a reasonable set up in Spain, so it was really just a matter of fine-tuning the car.

"A lot of people have been talking to us about the championship but, to be honest, our focus is on single results and we want to be back on the podium. If we can get good results in the last two rallies, the championship will look after itself.

"At the end of the day for me it's more important to be fighting for more rally wins because that's what we need to be doing in the future if we want to fight for a championship.

"I think a lot of people forget that is only our second full season at this level and we're looking to keep improving at every rally and we're still trying to learn the ropes a bit.

"All in all I think it's been a relatively successful year," he said.

The 22 stages in Wales are run over 333km with a very long 963km of touring stages and drivers will have to have one eye on keeping their cars in good nick as there is no mid-leg service on any of the three days, just a tyre regroup.

The weather always plays a part at the Welsh rally with wet and muddy conditions causing havoc.

This year though, the rally is earlier in the year and the weather forecast is for an unusually dry and warm weekend that will make tyre choice a vital part of the equation.

While Paddon will be on familiar roads, he will have to face the challenge of having 75 per cent of the stages running backwards to normal.

"We've never done any of the stages in this direction before and so had to rewrite all the notes. It'll be tricky because the stages, especially in the forest, have very long corners. It's very fast but the road is never straight and the car is always turning. Writing brand new pace notes for all of it is a bit of challenge.

"The rally could be dry which is a change for here. The temperature will be about 12 degrees Celsius and for Wales that's almost summer. It's going to be a little bit different, as we haven't really done the rally in these sorts of conditions before.

"We'll probably see a lot more tyre wear this weekend," he said.

During shakedown Paddon was the fastest of the Hyundai Motorsport team.

- NZ Herald

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