Hayden Paddon takes a number of positives from the fifth place result he and co-driver John Kennard secured at Rally Mexico, but New Zealand’s top rally driver is striving for much more in future events in this year’s FIA World Rally Championship.
Following the final two stages on Sunday (CST), Paddon said: “It’s certainly been a difficult weekend. Okay, P5 is still some okay points and we can take some positives away from that, but it’s certainly not the performance level we wanted. Obviously, we want more and it feels like we’re in a bit of a trough at the moment. On the brighter side, I’m sure we’re going to come out of it soon and, when we do then we can get the results that we expect and that we know we can achieve. We’ve just got to keep working hard and not give up.”
The 9-12 March running of Rally Mexico delivered challenges for the Kiwis virtually from the get-go. Thursday night’s opening super special stages in Mexico City started well as Paddon blasted through the 1.57km extra-super special street stage with the third quickest time on the first run. A ninth quickest time on the second run gave him fifth place overall. However the incredible atmosphere of the opening extravaganza in the world-renowned Zócalo Square had a downside – the 400km journey to return the rally cars and team personnel to host city Leon was halted for six hours when an accident involving non-rally vehicles closed the motorway. The cars and personnel arrived in Leon 90 minutes before Friday’s first scheduled stage, so this and the following stage were cancelled by organisers.
With the rally proper underway with the 4pm running of the 54.9km El Chocolate, Paddon and Kennard delivered a strong performance with the third quickest time. Another solid time through stage five saw the Kiwis comfortably in third place overall behind defending world rally champion Sebastien Ogier and rally leader Kris Meeke. But the frustrations were to continue when a technical problem slowed Paddon and Kennard on the first of the three evening super specials – the pair lost a minute on their rivals and dropped to seventh overall. Technical issues also affected the Hyundais of team-mates Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville.
Wrapping up Friday, Paddon said: “The rally [proper] got off to not a bad start, sitting in top three position. A little bit of a surprise as we were struggling with a few little issues, but the times were still not bad, so there was a bit of confidence to take away from that. But unfortunately, a technical problem struck down the three cars in the team which, at the end of the day, cost us a couple of minutes. Nevertheless, we’re still here. The guys are going to work hard overnight to try and rectify the problem so we can come back out tomorrow. We’ve seen the conditions are very tough; it’s going to be very hard. A long day tomorrow; we’re still right in this and we’ll solve things tonight to come back out fighting tomorrow.”
On Saturday, a string of consistent times in six longer gravel stages and three short super specials saw the Kiwis move into and consolidate fifth place.
“Being in the top five is a good position for points, but the performance hasn’t been where we wanted it to be,” said Paddon on Saturday evening. “We struggled in the morning with an early starting position on the road so we had a lot of loose gravel to contend with and this afternoon we struggled with the balance in the car. We’re just trying some things – the car was feeling very good in the morning, but the performance wasn’t there. We tried to try find a bit more speed this afternoon, but it just hasn’t gelled. We’ll sit down tonight to look at the data. I expect more than this, so we need to improve.”
Sunday’s itinerary comprised just two stages. “We struggled with a lot of little things going on – some technical issues today prevented us pushing for any power stage points,” said Paddon of Sunday.
Paddon’s team Hyundai Motorsport claimed its first podium finish of the season with Thierry Neuville clinching third as well as the power stage win and its five bonus points. Team-mate Dani Sordo secured eighth place in Mexico to be the top-placed Hyundai driver on the drivers’ championship leader-board in fourth.
The WRC moves back to Europe for the fourth round of the season, and the tarmac tests of Tour de Corse, which moves to an earlier spring date – 6-9 April, just six months after its 2016 edition in which Hyundai Motorsport finished in second place.
Paddon and Hayden Paddon RallySport Global (HPRG) Ltd appreciates the support of their exclusive partners, Hyundai New Zealand, Pak’nSave and Z Energy and associate sponsors Scott Sports and All About Signs Timaru.
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