Dale Budge is a sports writer for the NZ Herald.

Motorsport: Paddon ready to race after fatality

Hayden Paddon is looking to Sweden. Photo / Supplied
Hayden Paddon is looking to Sweden. Photo / Supplied

New Zealand rally driver Hayden Paddon is trying his best to put the tragedy of last month's season-opening event at Monte Carlo behind him.

Paddon lost control on black ice and crashed on the opening stage of the rally, which resulted in a roadside spectator being killed in the process.

Not yet ready to talk about that incident, Paddon returns to action in the snow of Sweden this weekend and says that is his sole focus.

"Looking forward to getting back in the car, really," said Paddon. "What's happened has happened and we don't need to delve too much into what happened in Monte Carlo.

"Now we have to look forward with a clear mind and the best thing we can do is get back in the car as quick as we can.

"We had a good test in Sweden last week. We spent one day in the car.

"The feeling on snow when you have the right tyres and the proper car set-up is pretty similar to gravel and it felt pretty comfortable straight away, to be honest, and it was just good to feel confident in the car again and hopefully we can take that forward into the rally."

The 29-year-old is not focused on a specific result in Sweden but is hoping to get comfortable with his 2017-spec Hyundai i20 and drive a clean event.

"I think if we prepare well - and so far that has been the case - and we have a good, clean rally, it is really a case of letting the result come to us this weekend.

"We just need to get back in the groove and enjoy it all again and if we can do that, then things should just naturally fall into place.

"We are not going to go chasing it this weekend. We have just got to do the best job we possibly can and see what comes of that."

This time last year, the rally was under threat of being cancelled due to a lack of snow but, while it is certainly whiter this year, Paddon is hoping for a bit more falling during the next day or two.

"There is probably not as much snow here as you would like," he said. "There is a lot more than last year - after last year, it makes this year's conditions look almost perfect.

"It is quite cold - about minus 10 most days - which means you have got a nice, hard frozen ice base on the roads.

"The thing we are lacking that you normally get here is the snow banks.

"That makes it a bit tougher because where you could bounce off the side of the road and just ride the edge of the road, now you'll just get sucked in, so it is really important to keep the car in the middle of the road."

One of the concerns about the new cars was how they might perform if there is damage to the body work, which provides aero.

Some have speculated the cars might be nearly impossible to drive if slightly damaged but Paddon said he did not expect that to be an issue.

"All the engineers have built the aero packages to suit a rally car so everything is very strong. Even from our test last week, we were bouncing off the snow banks left, right and centre and with very minimal damage, so I don't think we have to worry about that at all."

While the treacherous conditions in Monte Carlo meant drivers were more focused on staying on the road than finding outright speed, the Hyundai did appear competitive, with Belgian Thierry Neuville leading for two of the three days before retiring after a minor error.

"I think the team is quite upbeat," Paddon said. "Obviously it is disappointing that all three of us didn't really perform but in saying that the potential is very great and there is a long way to go in the season.

"I think between the three of us, we can try and get things back on track this weekend. A good, strong result here puts us back in the hunt for the manufacturers' title because that is clearly the No 1 objective for the team."

And who does Paddon expect to challenge for the win in Sweden?

"It is so open this year - you have Seb [Sebastien Ogier] and Ott [Tanak] in the Fords, Jari [Jari-Matti Latvala] in the Toyota and then you have the Citroens as well. Everyone seems to be fast at the moment.

"Even with us, you don't really know who you are going to be battling with.

"Seb is always going to be the benchmark - we could see in Monte Carlo that he didn't get it all his way like he normally would in the past. It is still a new environment for him.

"The best time for everybody else to pounce on him is right now while he is still trying get comfortable in his new environment. The window of opportunity is quite small."

- NZ Herald

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