New Zealand’s top rally pair, Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard, will be relishing the prospect of racing in Europe again this weekend at Rally Portugal.
The duo have done the hard yards in the Americas at Rally Mexico and Rally Argentina where points were nigh on impossible to get and mechanical gremlins reigned. Paddon was hoping to improve on his 10 points from Rally Sweden in the following two rounds but left empty handed to slip outside the top 10. He is 11th on the World Rally Championship table.
He’s now looking forward to a level playing field in Portugal on a course that is new to the majority of the field as the rally returns to northern Portugal for the first time since 2001.
“We can’t change anything that’s happened in the past so we just have to move on and look forward to having a good, strong rally this weekend,” Paddon said. “Even though this event is new, things feel a lot more normal being back in Europe.
“Having seen the roads, I think they will suit us well and there are a few stages we’re looking forward to. There’s a real mixture of roads with some fast sections and some really technical sections.”
Paddon and Kennard have an enviable record of being able to construct some of the best pace notes in the championship.
Portugal is the beginning of the European leg of the series. Teams then move on to Sardinia, Poland and Finland.
This weekend’s event is the ideal launch pad for Paddon and Kennard to get back on the pace with the aim of for a few top five finishes to haul themselves back up the leader board.
One thing that will be a trifle irksome for the team is the expectant upgrades for their Hyundai i20 WRC car haven’t materialised. “Hopefully we’ll get some upgrades in the next one or two rallies. The plan was to get the upgrades when we got back to Europe but the factory is so busy we just ran out of time.
“On the other hand we’re really happy with the car at the moment. The upgrades we’re talking about won’t make the car go heaps faster ... we’ve got to concentrate on driving faster and that’s what we have to focus on now.”
Today is the longest leg of the rally with six stages and 165 competitive kilometres. Tomorrow’s leg has three stages, with a double run through classic Fafe test sandwiched between one of the event’s longest stages, the Vieira do Minho test.