The Hyundai i20 AP4+ rally car piloted by Kiwi rally star Hayden Paddon and his co-driver John Kennard took its third consecutive win at Rally Otago, running 14-15 April, with Paddon winning each and every one of the 17 special stages.
Winning the two-day, 281.29 km rally by a margin of 8 min 27.7 sec from second-placed Ben Hunt, Paddon set also new stage records for all 17 stages.
Paddon’s dominance of a domestic New Zealand Rally Championship event is not unexpected, but the Kiwi WRC driver doesn’t take it all for granted, valuing the competition offered by his long-time rallying colleagues.
“The win is great for the car and great for Hyundai. I’m back in the rally groove, making pace notes, listening to pace notes, preparation, and all that side of things,” says Paddon whose Hyundai is run by his family’s team Paddon Rallysport under the Hyundai New Zealand Rally Team banner.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s WRC or NZRC, the way you prepare is very similar and important to be doing on a regular basis. The whole purpose of the NZRC campaign is to keep my eye in and to further develop the New Zealand Hyundai AP4+ car. Regardless of what any other competitors are doing, our priority this weekend was to focus on our own stages and I know when I’ve done a good or a bad stage – I kept my focus on that.
“The New Zealand Rally Championship generally is in a really good place. The others did a really good job – Ben, Emma [Gilmour], Dylan [Turner], Matt [Summerfield] – they were all very close and doing a good job, and the competition between them is very fierce. They’ll be faster again in Whangarei in just three weeks, so they keep enough pressure on us so that we have to keep our wits about us.”
Paddon Rallysport invested many manhours in further development work the i20 AP4+ car prior to Otago. “The car’s working well, it’s enjoyable to drive and we didn’t really have any problems this weekend so we have a good base to work from now; just some small refinements we’ll now do before Whangarei, but in general it’s working really well.”
The 17-stage Otago Rally is well known for its fast, flowing, gravel special stages – the stages on which Paddon honed his talent behind the wheel. The event’s mid-April timing bought rain and temperatures around zero degrees Celsius just prior to its running, conditions that top seed Paddon described as quite cold, but reasonable for rallying. “There wasn’t much gravel on the stages, but because it had been wet before rally and then dried out with the wind, they were fairly compacted and didn’t give you the best grip, a bit skittery.
“The stages on this rally are of a similar character, all very fast and you need a lot of commitment. In that respect they’re very good and it’s great fun,” he says, having set his fastest average speed on a stage (SS6) of 135.89 km/h.
Paddon enjoyed having former long-time co-driver John Kennard back in the car for this event. “We were straight back into the groove and it’s great to work with John, but unfortunately he won’t be with us for Whangarei [due to the timing of Kennard’s hip operation being brought forward].”
The first weekend of the 2018 NZRC also saw Paddon participating in Hyundai dealer events. “Hyundai had people out on the stages and it looked like everyone enjoyed themselves.”
Next up is the 5-6 May running of the International Rally of Whangarei, after which Paddon will depart immediately for Europe and his next WRC event, Rally Portugal. In the meantime, he’ll be making the most of every training opportunity and getting his hands dirty, helping his crew with those refinements for the AP4+ Hyundai.