Kiwi rally driver Hayden Paddon got his 2018 FIA World Rally Championship season underway with a strong top five finish with co-driver Seb Marshall at Rally Sweden, which wrapped up on Sunday 18 February (European time).
The pair held fourth place overall for most of the second and final days of action on the WRC’s only snow rally in their Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. However an error, described by Paddon as annoying, on the rally’s 19th and final stage, combined with the pace of fifth-placed Esapekka Lappi meant Lappi took fourth in the final rally standings, dropping Paddon into fifth.
Paddon and Marshall took many positives from their first outing on snow together – on Friday their pace netted them two stage wins, they were in podium contention and the top three, four or five overall for most of the rally, and Paddon knows what he wants to work on before his next event with Hyundai Motorsport in Portugal in May.
The rally got underway on Thursday with the 1.9km Karlstad stadium super special stage – Paddon and Marshall set the seventh quickest time.
Running 11th on the road for Friday’s seven stages where fresh snowfall challenged those running earlier in the road order, Paddon and Marshall took a steady approach in the morning loop to hold a steady eighth on the leader-board by the midday service. They then delivered two stage wins during the afternoon loop in tricky conditions to leap up the standings to fifth and then third overall behind their Hyundai team-mates Thierry Neuville and Andreas Mikkelsen.
Paddon said: “Our objective today was to get the rhythm back. The conditions were not easy. We had to be conscious of keeping the car in the lines, and adapting both the car and my driving to suit the stages. The ruts became really pronounced in the afternoon loop. If you go outside of the lines, you become a passenger in your own car, so we had to pull back a bit at times. The road position has helped but we wanted to have a sensible approach to the day, and a clean run, which we have had. There is room for improvement, but the positions are encouraging and there’ll be more to give tomorrow.”
A patient and consistent approach to Saturday’s eight special stages kept Paddon and Marshall in the top-four mix. In dry conditions with no fresh snow, Paddon balanced his chosen setup of his Hyundai i20 WRC with the road conditions post competitive stage times during the afternoon’s repeated loop to consolidate his fourth place overall going into Sunday’s final short day of action. He finished the day 48.6s off Hyundai team-mate and rally leader Thierry Neuville, and 16.6s behind his other team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen who holds third place.
Paddon said: “Not quite the day we wanted but we are still enjoying ourselves and doing the best we can. We started the morning loop knowing that we would be playing a waiting game. The way that the car has been set up for my driving meant we had to find a compromise between my own confidence and the outright performance in those first stages. The wider lines on the roads in the afternoon played more to my strengths, so we had to be patient and wait for the stages to come to us. We were definitely more comfortable to push in the repeat loop. It was fantastic to see so many fans enjoying the stages, especially through Colin’s Crest. Unfortunately, we lost a little time stuck in a snow bank on the final stage, but we are still in a good position to push on tomorrow.”
Starting Sunday’s final three stages ninth on the road, Paddon and Marshall set the eighth and then fourth quickest times through the repeated Likenãs stage. Going into the final stage in fourth place overall, a small error from Paddon combined with the pace of fifth-placed Esapekka Lappi meant Lappi took fourth place in the final rally standings,
Paddon said: “An annoying end to what had been a generally positive weekend for us. It was just a small mistake in the Power Stage, which stalled the car and lost us too much time to defend our fourth place. It is what it is. We have plenty of positives to take away from the event and I am looking forward to continuing this trend in my next WRC event in Portugal. I’m happy to have been part of this competitive rally for the team and I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel.”
Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville won the rally, while Andreas Mikkelsen was third, consolidating a very good weekend for Hyundai Motorsport to move them into the lead of the WRC manufacturers’ championship, and Neuville into the lead of the drivers’ championship.
Paddon returns to New Zealand to contest some New Zealand Rally Championship events before returning to WRC action in May in Portugal.