Kiwi rally driver Hayden Paddon and co-driver Seb Marshall put together a consistent, clean run to bring their Hyundai i20 WRC coupe home in fourth place at Rally Italia Sardegna, 7-10 June.
It’s the best result of their 2018 World Rally Championship season so far, being their third event with Hyundai Motorsport. It’s also Paddon’s highest finish in Sardinia since he and John Kennard scored a then career-best second place in 2015.
Paddon said he’d hoped for more, but that things hadn’t clicked as he’d hoped this weekend. Importantly, Paddon put together a clean run to finish the event, and now takes confidence from a strong result to push on for the rest of the season.
Rally Italia Sardegna formally got underway on Thursday evening with the 2km Ittiri arena super special stage where drivers went head to head. Paddon set the fifth quickest time of 2.04.3 against stage winner Sebastien Ogier’s time of 2.02.7.
Unseasonal rain created tricky conditions for all on Friday with the key challenge being how to pick the most effective combination of soft and hard Michelin tyres for rain-drenched roads, so unlike the expected hot and dusty Sardinian gravel stages. Friday’s running order is defined by current drivers’ championship position, so Paddon ran 11th on the road for the day’s scheduled 126.18km and eight stages.
With the stages getting more difficult and often slippery with every passing car, Paddon had his work cut out for him, finishing the morning loop of four stages down in ninth overall in a close battle with those surrounding him on the leader-board.
Standing water on the early afternoon stages saw most times slower than the morning runs. Despite an overshoot on SS5, Paddon and Marshall managed the fifth quickest time to inch up to eighth overall. The demise of Ott Tänak and Teemu Suninen on SS9 allowed Paddon to move up into sixth overall, just over a minute behind rally leader Sebastien Ogier and only 3.2 seconds behind Mads Ostberg in fifth.
Following Friday’s action, Paddon said: “We can’t be happy with our performance or results today. Whatever we have tried just hasn’t worked. Nothing has been clicking. We took a bit of a gamble this morning with the tyre choice, expecting it to dry out more than it eventually did.
“Tyres aside, we haven’t had the rhythm we need, nor the confidence to push. We have had little choice but to play the sensible game and get to the end of the day without having any issues. We are in the top-six but that is little consolation.
“We need to let the times come more naturally, and there are some things you can’t shake a magic wand at. We’ll sleep on it tonight and start again on Saturday morning.”
Saturday’s conditions were much more typical of the Mediterranean Island with sunshine and red dust. Running third on the road, Paddon enjoyed a clean, relatively issue-free run with some top five stage times to show for his efforts.
Paddon finished the seven-stage day standings in fifth place, having delivered a consistent performance and netting a one-step improvement up the leader-board by taking fifth place after a close battle with Mads Ostberg. Dramas late in the day for third-placed Jari-Matti Latvala, whose car stopped on the way back to the final service, promoted Paddon into the fourth spot with just four stages to run on Sunday.
Speaking following the conclusion of Saturday’s stages but before Latvala was forced to retire, Paddon said: “We have definitely enjoyed the conditions today more than we did on Friday. There has been a little bit of sweeping required, but nothing too detrimental.
“The grip was good on the morning loop and we recovered some of the positive feeling we had in shakedown. Rally Italia Sardegna certainly throws up a fair few surprises, as we’ve seen again today, so we played it smart and concentrated on clean runs.
“We tried to keep the pressure on Mads throughout the day, and it’s going to be a close-run final morning. There are important manufacturer points up for grabs, so we won’t be doing anything foolish but fourth is there for the taking, so we’ll do our best to defend it.”
The final day of action on Sunday comprised four special stages and 42km of action on the coast north of rally headquarters in Alghero. Paddon’s stage results reflected his goals of defending fourth position from a chasing Mads Ostberg and reaching the end to help Hyundai Motorsport with the best possible manufacturers’ championship points.
He achieved both goals while Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville pulled off a stunning win from Sebastian Ogier on the very last stage of the rally. The third Hyundai driver Andreas Mikkelsen was 18th after transmission trouble forced him out of the event on Friday.
Paddon said: “A difficult weekend for us, but a positive end to the rally for the team. We wanted more from this rally, but to take fourth place gives us important confidence for the coming events. Things didn’t really click from the first stages, and we weren’t able to replicate the positive feeling we had from shakedown.
“Still, it’s nice to finish this event for the first time in three years, and to score important points for the team in the manufacturers’ championship. We will look to build from here, and to try and take a few more risks. Congratulations to Thierry, Nicolas and the whole team for a fantastic victory.”
Paddon also paid thanks to the team and co-driver Seb Marshall “…who did amazing job as usual and also to all the doctors and Formula Medicine who helped me for the rehab and prep to even get me to the start of this event.”
The result moves Paddon from 15th in the WRC drivers’ championship to 13th. He and Marshall continue their WRC campaign at the next round Rally Finland at the end of July.
Final Overall Classification – Rally Italia Sardegna
1 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 3:29:18.7
2 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Ford Fiesta WRC +0.7
3 E. Lappi J. Ferm Toyota Yaris WRC +1:56.3
4 H. Paddon S. Marshall Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2:55.2
5 M. Østberg T. Eriksen Citroën C3 WRC +3:10.9
6 C. Breen S. Martin Citroën C3 WRC +4:31.7
7 J.M. Latvala M. Anttila Toyota Yaris WRC +11:22.1
8 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Toyota Yaris WRC +12:38.2
9 J. Kopecky P. Dresler Škoda Fabia R5 +13:14.6
10 T. Suninen M. Markkula Ford Fiesta WRC +15:30.4
2018 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After round 7
1 T. Neuville 149
2 S. Ogier 122
3 O. Tanak 79
4 E. Lappi 70
5 D. Sordo 60
6 A. Mikkelsen 56
7 E. Evans 46
8 K. Meeke 43
9 J.M Latvala 37
10 C. Breen 34
11 M. Østberg 26
12 T. Suninen 24
13 H. Paddon 22
2018 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After round 7
1 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 212
2 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 184
3 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 161
4 Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 129