Hayden Paddon reviews the 2018 Rally Sweden …
Well what a long but enjoyable week it was in Sweden where we were able to bring home a strong top 5 result but more importantly within the lead fight for most of the rally.
Right from the start of the week it was great to be back in the WRC environment, from the recce, PR duties and living out of a suitcase – it all just felt so natural and normal. On our arrival to Sweden, we were confronted with near perfect winter rally conditions – lots of snow, good ice road base and high snow banks lining the road. However, the not so cold temperatures (only -5 to -8 instead of -20) meant the snow banks were a little soft and we had to be careful throughout the rally to not get stuck in them.
We focused on a good steady pace throughout the rally and when the conditions and stages come to us – the times come naturally. In addition, despite being back in 7th at Friday lunch time, the conditions did just that in the afternoon as we won two stages and ended the day in 3rd place. It was also a Hyundai 1-2-3 at the end of the day, which was the first time ever for our team. It was a great confidence boost and a solid way to start to settle back into a groove again.
It was clear the cleaning conditions was suiting my driving style and car setup more so on the second pass and we were hoping this would also translate on Saturday. However, unfortunately the conditions were a little different and despite our best efforts, we couldn’t replicate Friday afternoon again. We were within the hunt for the podium all the way to the finish, setting several top 3 times and generally always within 10 seconds of a podium. It was a closely fought rally with very small margins and certainly no room for error – so despite missing the podium we finished the event feeling satisfied with the result and our performance. It was also great to see our teammate Thierry win the rally that was a well-needed result for the team and puts them on top of the manufacturers’ championship.
We are not far off from the top and as mentioned, the margins are all so small. We know what we are missing and where the time is that we are looking for. We have made some good steps with the car setup to suit my driving style and we are now just missing one small aspect that once we get on top of, will allow me to effortlessly drive in my natural style. In the meantime, we are making the most of what we have, but it’s clear our car and team is a very strong package and I have full belief that we can be spraying champagne regularly with our teammates soon.
There is a little sadness now however thinking that it is 3 months until our next WRC event with Rally Portugal in May. Argentina in particular will be a hard rally to miss. But to soften the blow I now travel home to NZ to compete in the opening 2 rounds of the NZRC (Otago and Whangarei) along with many other PR and team commitments that I am looking forward to undertaking.
A huge thanks to everyone that helped us prepare for the new season and everyone’s support over the weekend. Seb did a faultless job in the car and it was also great to have some close friends and family there with us. Big thanks also to Brendan Reeves for his help staying up late at night in Australia feeding us with information from WRC All Live.
Thanks everyone and we will of course keep you up to date during our NZ exploits.