When the WRC crews pulled into the final stage time control in Poland earlier this month, World Rally Radio commentator Colin Clark asked several where they’d be holidaying during the four-week gap before Rally Finland.
Summer breaks in Greece, Ibiza and the Caribbean were among the answers.
But for Kiwi rally star Hayden Paddon a trip home and a round of sponsor commitments fill his "holiday" diary.
‘‘I’m back home for about 10 days but of those eight days are PR activities with Hyundai New Zealand and dealers and the Speedshow this weekend,’’ says Paddon.
‘‘Someone said to me the other day 'are you going home for a bit of R&R?’
‘‘I had to correct them and say `I’m going home for a bit of PR’. Then it’s back to Europe and a few days of preparation before Finland.’’
Paddon’s mid-season home visit follows career-best results of second place in Italy and a fourth place in Poland, exactly the top-five performances he’d been targeting as he moves past the 12-month milestone as a regular WRC contender.
And backing up the podium in Sardinia with another strong drive in Poland has taken some pressure off the 28-year-old from Geraldine in South Canterbury. ‘‘Some people were talking that it (his drive in Sardinia) was a one-off and a bit of a fluke,’’ says Paddon.
‘‘`So to go out at quite a contrasting rally – one being the slowest and the other being the fastest – and, although we didn’t get the same result, I think we were equally as competitive and the lead car in the team.
‘‘It gave me a bit more confidence and hopefully silenced a few critics. It means we can get on with our job in the future without as much pressure on us.’’ Paddon has built a reputation for honest self-appraisal as he seeks constant improvement.
‘‘I didn’t think everything gelled as quite well (in Poland) as it did in Sardinia. If we can get that same feeling back on those fast rallies maybe we can get closer to the top three,’’ he says.
‘‘In Poland with the really fast roads we lacked just a little bit of power. You could see in the split times that in the really fast sections we would drop time that you just couldn’t make up.’’
There are quite different goals for Paddon’s next three rallies – Finland (which starts July 31), Germany (August 20-23) and Australia (September 10-13). ‘‘We have to stay realistic at the moment. I think Australia is our best opportunity.
‘‘But I enjoy Finland. It will be our sixth time there this year so it is an event we have more experience of. But everyone is pretty fast there so to be in the top-five is a big challenge.’’
The all-tarmac German event raced through the highly technical vineyard and military roads will be a learning weekend.
‘‘We’ve still done so little tarmac compared to everyone else. The team are helping us with some extra training and testing and they know tarmac is our weak area so they want to help us improve.’’
Getting to grips with tarmac is part of Paddon’s ''big picture'' aspirations.
‘‘To try and win a world championship in the future you have to be competitive on all surfaces, not just gravel. It’s an area I have to work on.’’
Paddon says his recent pace has come from some new driving techniques and an upgraded specification for his Hyundai i20 WRC.
‘‘We’ve made really good progress with letting things happen naturally and not forcing things. That’s come from a combination of our pace notes working well and developing a car set-up that works really well for us.
‘‘It’s gelling together and we’ve known that from February or March, but it’s just taken a few months for the results to come.
‘‘There is still a lot more to come. We know what areas to improve on and we’ll target them one by one.’’
He’ll continue to polish his technique behind the wheel.
‘‘I’m learning to be smoother while being more aggressive at the same time, as conflicting as that sounds,’’ he says.
‘‘It’s being smooth with the throttle and the steering inputs and trying to do just one application. In the past I used to play with the throttle or the steering a lot.’’
There have also been improvements to the specification of the Hyundai i20 WRC.
‘‘It doesn’t sound big but the paddle shift (gearbox) has probably had the biggest influence this year.
‘‘I used to drive the car too much like a Group N (Production) car – hold the car in the high gears and allow the engine to do the work. But with the 1.6-litre engine we don’t have the torque and I hadn’t got out of the habit.
‘‘Now with the paddle shift and the ease of changing gears I’m using them to slow the car down and using the rpm of the engine more. It allows me to drive the car to its strengths.’’
The car Paddon is driving is now closer in specification to that of team-mates Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo.
‘‘We are one step behind with the engine now but other than that it’s basically identical other than some set-up items. Hopefully we’ll have all the upgrades for Rally Australia.’’
Rally Australia brings the WRC action closer to home with a big turnout of Kiwi fans expected at Coffs Harbour and a more sociable time zone for Kiwis following Paddon’s progress online.
‘‘It’s quite humbling to know how much support we have,’’ says Paddon.
‘‘I hear stories of people staying up late at night so I feel bad for people who miss out on some sleep.
‘‘But it’s cool to be sharing that and hopefully it all helps to get Rally New Zealand back. That’s a big priority for me – to see all the Kiwis out on the event and watching the WRC in the flesh again.’’