Kiwi rally driver Hayden Paddon remains positive that the pace he showed at this weekend’s FIA World Rally Championship round in Portugal will translate into good results in the near future, despite having crashed out of the event.
Paddon and co-driver Seb Marshall were mixing it with Hyundai Motorsport team-mate Dani Sordo and Citroën’s Kris Meeke at the top of the field throughout Friday’s first full day of action at Rally Portugal, an event known for its unforgiving, rock-littered roads.
A stage win on the day’s opening test shot the pair to the top of the leader-board – although Paddon said he thought he’d lacked rhythm on the 28km stage. In conditions that Paddon said were clearly rougher than usual – and got even worse on the second pass of the repeated stages – they came into the midday service break in third overall and 4.8 seconds off rally leader Sordo. More consistent front-running times combined with the roads taking their toll on fellow WRC competitors saw Paddon back into the overall lead by the end of SS6.
Then came stage seven, Ponte De Lima where things were looking so promising “…only for Porta De Lima to bite us for a third year in a row,” Paddon said. “To be on the pace and leading the rally twice today was encouraging, driving within ourselves and looking to consolidate on the final stage of the day.
“Unfortunately, I made a small mistake to avoid a big rock on the inside of a corner. Carrying too much speed for the corner, we ran wide with the rear of the car into the ditch. A culvert in the ditch stopped us in our tracks, spinning the car 360 degrees back onto the road. The impact was over 15G.”
Paddon and Marshall exited the damaged Hyundai i20 WRC without assistance, but Paddon’s back wasn’t good. Officials called for medical assistance and Paddon was helicoptered to a nearby hospital for scans and checks. Due to the severity of the impact which made an old injury flare up, doctors recommended Paddon stayed in hospital overnight. He was then released on Saturday morning (CEST) and returned to the rally service park. He says some quiet days to rest and recuperate will see him fully fit to compete at Rally Sardinia in early June. Marshall reported that he was okay, but a little sore.
Paddon expressed his disappointment he couldn’t deliver a result and apologised to the team and his supporters.
“We still have some good things to take away from this weekend and are confident we will soon be on the podium. We are in the WRC to give it 100% as we did this weekend and have no regrets. This was one of the roughest Rally Portugals ever where only 21 of the original 85 starters reached the finish without using Rally2 re-start regulations.”
Next up for Paddon and his British co-driver is another gravel event, Rally Italia Sardegna, which runs 7-10 June. Paddon with former co-driver John Kennard scored his first-ever WRC podium finish with second place in Sardinia in 2015.