Hayden Paddon, the young rally driver from Geraldine in New Zealand’s South Island, lines up for his first run in the Japanese round of the World Rally Championship on 10 September.
Paddon is currently third in the Production World Rally Championship category and is gunning for maximum points from the Japanese event to give him top-equal points in his first attempt at the global WRC feeder series.
The talented Kiwi tackles Rally Japan in his own Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX and, with co-driver John Kennard, forms one of the top teams in the Production World Rally Championship category at this event.
Even though it’s the first time Paddon will drive the rally route on Japan’s Hokkaido Island, he and Kennard will continue their process of thorough preparation and seamless teamwork just as they have in each of the rallies they’ve tackled for the first time this season. After a well-deserved second place at the most recent PWRC round in Germany, the two-time New Zealand rally champion has demonstrated increasing confidence and pace in every world championship rally he’s contested this year.
While aiming to improve his position in the production category, Paddon must take into account other top PWRC competitors like former PWRC champion Japanese driver Toshi Arai, who’s currently fourth, and Patrick Flodin, who’s currently second.
“Toshi Arai, being on home turf, will be very fast. Also Patrick Flodin, who is ahead of us in the championship, has done the event before and is also very quick. So it will be a tough battle to get that maximum 25 points for the top PWRC slot, but that’s our goal.
“If we can achieve that objective, we go into the final two rounds tied at the top of the table with current leader Armindo Araújo who is not doing this event, which puts us in a very strong position for the overall PWRC title, especially as both Flodin and Araújo have only two more PWRC events to do while we have three, including this one.
“But without getting too far ahead of ourselves, winning here will be like trying to win in Finland, so we certainly have a challenge ahead. But I am confident; I know that car will be good so I feel we have a good chance to do well.”
This year, Paddon has been competing as a Pirelli Star Driver, a world-wide driver development programme which offers five young drivers the chance to contest six WRC events. Four of these PSD events count for the PWRC, but drivers need to compete in a minimum of six PWRC events. Paddon contested Rally New Zealand – winning the production category – and now Rally Japan is the second of the events that Paddon and his Team Green crew are contesting in their own right. This sees Paddon back in his own championship-winning Mitsubishi, which was shipped to Japan after the team won another New Zealand event, the International Rally of Whangarei, in July.
“It’s good to be back in the EVO IX. It’s like an old glove and just a really nice car to drive. Before the car left New Zealand, it had a major rebuild. To help with parts allocation (given our modest budget) we ran a lot of older parts on the car for Whangarei but, for Japan, we have all the newer bits on and the whole team has done a great job in rebuilding the car in the short space of time we had before the shipping deadline. We’ve also further developed the car’s set-up, particularly with the suspension and diff maps, for the rougher conditions we expect to encounter in Japan.”
Paddon says the weather in Japan has been very hot recently. “But it’s also hurricane season, so the weather can turn in the blink of an eye. When the roads are wet, they tend to cut up a lot and become very rutted. We will just have to deal with those conditions if they occur, but generally the roads look nice – fast and narrow in places. Any gravel under the wheels is always good!”
Rally Japan starts with one of the most spectacular super special stages of the year, which run inside and outside the futuristic-looking Sapporo Dome sports stadium twice on the Thursday evening. Day one and day two take competitors to the south of rally HQ at the Sapporo Dome with day three’s stages to the north-east with a total of 303.54 competitive kilometres.
Paddon says that this year, as a Pirelli Star Driver and his PWRC campaign as a whole, has been fantastic so far. “The amount I have learned and have developed as a driver has been incredible. The amazing thing is to think that we have done only half of our PWRC campaign – three of six rounds – so there is still a long way to go for us. Our eyes are certainly still on winning the PWRC as we have a good platform to work off for the second half of the season.”
The Paddon RallySport team acknowledges the support of Pirelli, Ralliart Italy, EDL Fasteners, Rallytours, Castrol, Contiki Tours, Paddon, MCA Suspension, Vicarage Lane Wines, Radio Hauraki, Radio Sport, Northend Ford, In-Tune Automotive, All About Signs, Total Automotive, Resene, FMG, Raiseys Nutrition, Endless, 1Group, FMG, Steelplus,?Andar the Front Store, Reaction Racing, Alpinestars, Pope Print, Cameron Air & Seafreight and Bluebridge Ferries.
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