Fresh from winning Rally New Zealand earlier this month, New Zealand’s top rally pairing, Hayden Paddon and John Kennard, head for Argentina this week for their next Production World Rally Championship event.
Paddon and Kennard, from Geraldine and Blenheim respectively, face an entirely new challenge at the South American event, which is the second of their international events this season. Rally Argentina runs from 26 to 29 May and is the sixth round of the 2011 World Rally Championship. The rally also counts for Paddon and fellow competitors in the production car category towards the PWRC.
For Paddon, it’s the first time the two-time New Zealand rally champion has started in a rally in the South American continent. But, as he did last year during his Pirelli Star Driver scholarship season, he relishes the opportunity to learn and perform on the same roads that the World Rally Championship contenders drive just a few minutes ahead of him.
“I am really looking forward to Argentina but it is going to be quite different to Portugal,” says the 24-year-old of the European event in March where he won the PWRC category with the largest margin ever recorded in the production category.
“I have studied many hours of in-car footage of the event and parts of it look very rough. Although flowing in nature, the stages in Argentina are known to be slightly slower and more technically demanding than some other WRC events. In saying that, there also look to be some fast sections which I always enjoy.”
Kennard, Paddon’s co-driver, says he was last at the Argentinean event in 2003 in his role as a WRC team logistics manager. “However I haven’t actually competed on the rally stages, so in that sense, it’s new for me too.”
Paddon and Kennard compete in a Subaru STI rally car, built to the strict Group N production car regulations by Belgium race team, Symtech. This car is virtually the same as the Possum Bourne Motorsport-built Subaru in which he won both Rally Otago and Rally New Zealand, so Paddon and his small local team have been using all the knowledge gained while developing their New Zealand Robbie Leicester owned – Subaru to enhance their PWRC programme with Symtech.
Paddon says: “The team has done a great job since Portugal rebuilding the car in a short space of time before it was loaded on the boat to head to Argentina some weeks ago. Competing locally in New Zealand has really helped my knowledge and experience of Subarus a great deal. It’s also been invaluable to get more kilometres in the driver’s seat – in this business, every kilometre of competition and testing counts. We take what we’ve learnt here to Argentina to test it in our PWRC car. I feel with a few further developments, we will have an even faster package.”
When Paddon established the company Hayden Paddon Rallysport Global Ltd at the end of 2010 to fund and support his goal of becoming the world rally champion, the first objective is for the affable Kiwi to become the 2011 Production World Rally champion.
After contesting the Portuguese event, Paddon is in second place on the points-table behind Czech driver Martin Semerad who also earned points in the first nominated PWRC event in Sweden in February. Registered PWRC competitors must contest six of the seven PWRC events, so not all competitors will contest each event, meaning the final results may not become clear until later in the season. In the meantime, before Argentina, the standings show Semerad has 40 points, Paddon has 25, and Ukrainian driver Valirey Gorban has 22 points. Gorban is not contesting the Argentinean event, while Semerad is.
“As the Argentinean stages are rough, our priority for the event is to secure good strong points. While speed is important in the championship, so is consistency – it’s vital that we come away with good points even though we have no experience here. Our remaining four rounds – Finland, Australia, Spain and Great Britain – are rallies on which we have experience or we know will suit us. We want to be in the best possible position in the championship after Argentina – and in relation to Semerad – to stand us in good stead to go hard for the rest of the year.”
Paddon has made the most of the opportunity for many kilometres of testing and competition around and during the two New Zealand rallies. “In addition, my preparation for the event has included studying footage, my normal fitness training and also altitude training thanks to Alto Lab to help me prepare for the high altitudes at Rally Argentina.”
The event is based in Villa Carlos Paz, a town 700km northwest of Buenos Aires on the banks of San Roque Lake near Argentina’s second-largest city Cordoba. The rally is popularised by its jumps, water splashes and the lunar landscape of the high altitude El Condor stage, as well as the tens of thousands of enthusiastic rally fans who line the route. The weather in late May, as the country heads into winter, could deliver cold and wet conditions for Paddon to contend with.
Paddon says he and Kennard leave New Zealand on Thursday 19 May. “We have a couple days to acclimatise when we arrive. We then have a day’s testing on Monday with the PWRC competitors before we get into reconnaissance and our first look at the roads on Tuesday.”
Reconnaissance continues on Wednesday, before Thursday’s shakedown test session, ceremonial start and first super special stage run through the streets of the host town. The rally itself starts on Friday and runs through until 1pm Sunday with a total of 378km of competitive stages and over 1,000km of touring between stages to be completed.
Following Rally Argentina, Paddon and Kennard return to New Zealand to contest the International Rally of Whangarei, an event they’ve won three times, in July. The pair then heads straight off to Europe for Rally Finland in pursuit of their world rally goals. This year’s programme also includes PWRC events in Australia, Spain and Great Britain.
Paddon would like to thank the continued support he gets from his loyal partners, which include Subaru New Zealand, EDL Fasteners, CR Properties, Racetech Seats, Castrol, Dunlop, Radio Sport, Radio Hauraki, Camerons Sea and Air Freight, Endless brakes, In-tune Automotive, All About Signs, Total Automotive, Reaction Racing, Raiseys Sport Nutrition, Chicane Racewear, RallyTours, Alto Lab, Pope Print, Granger Design, Bluebridge Ferry, 1 Group and Symtech Racing.
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