PHOTO: Hayden Paddon (right) and co-driver John Kennard are looking forward to returning to the Coffs Coast roads (Honza Froněk pic).
HAYDEN Paddon and co-driver John Kennard will be drawing on their experience on the high-speed country roads and tight, technical forest tracks typical of Coates Hire Rally Australia when they head to this year’s Australian World Rally Championship event.
Paddon and Kennard have visited the Coffs Coast twice before, including for their history-making clinching of the 2011 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship.
The Kiwis will compete in a Hyundai i20 WRC car for the fourth time and join Hyundai Motorsport regulars Belgians Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul, and Australian driver Chris Atkinson with Belgian co-drover Stéphane Prevot on their second event with the team this year.
“We’re really looking forward to rallying with Chris and Stéphane in the Coates Hire Rally Australia – it’s going to be good to compete against him. There will be lots of Australian and New Zealand rally supporters out there so to have two drivers from this part of the world competing at the top level of rallying in WRC Hyundais is going to be great for spectators,” says Paddon, who has nearly 100 people joining an official tour to the event with his management company Hayden Paddon RallySport Global Ltd.
Paddon’s goals are to continue the progression he and Kennard have made in their first three events with the team.
“We’re always looking to build on the experience we’ve gained so far and build on the improvements in performance we’ve been showing from rally to rally. If we can take a step up from what we did at Rally Finland, that would be good.
“Also if we could get a top five finish, that would be really good, but I realise the size of the challenge to do that. We have to make sure we have a really good rally to achieve this.
“One key will be to try and take advantage of our road position on the first day. Seeing as that’s based on championship order, we’ll be a little bit further back. So that road clearing from the guys in front is something we should be able to make the most of.”
The starting order for day one of the rally sees drivers run in championship order, i.e. Volkswagen’s Sebastian Ogier first, team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala second and Hyundai’s Neuville will be fifth on the road. With only WRC cars entered, Paddon – currently 17th on the 2014 FIA WRC drivers’ standings – will start 10th and Atkinson in 11th.
The Kiwi ace is understandably upbeat about his progress during his debut WRC season.
“I definitely feel like we’re learning a lot this year with the team and the team’s helping me develop on many levels as a driver, so that’s great. I know where we can be going faster, but it’s not something that you can do within a blink of an eye.
“It takes a little time to adapt and tune your mind into the fact you have to brake a little bit later and carry that little bit more extra corner speed to what I’ve been used to for many years. It’s getting close, but it takes a little more time.
“For this event, we’re feeling quietly confident. We had a really good test with the Hyundai i20 WRC in France and have changed a few things in the setup to move the car more toward to my style of driving, rather than in the past we’ve been taking what Thierry and Juho have been doing with their setup and trying to adapt my driving to that.
“Now we’re looking at setup from the other way round. Combined with some good pace notes from previous events here, I think we have the best chance all year of a good result.
“It’s the first time in Australia for the team and there will be some unknowns, but with both Chris and I, both being Australasian, there’s some good experience that we can certainly help with. But the team’s obviously on a high after winning in Germany so everyone’s extremely motivated and will be competitive.”
Paddon and Kennard join competitors for reconnaissance of the 20 special stages on Tuesday and Wednesday before Thursday’s official shakedown runs, rally show and start.