Hayden Paddon was among the early casualties during WRC Rally Finland last weekend, but his performance through the Friday morning stages continued the Kiwi star’s impressive mid-season pace.
Paddon has now reset his goals to achieving top-five finishes on gravel rallies and in Finland he put himself immediately into that fight.
Having dropped a few seconds with a careful run through the Thursday evening super special stage, Paddon posted a string of fifth fastest stage times and arrived at Friday’s midday tyre change in fifth. He crashed out of the rally near the end of the next stage.
Rally Finland is the fastest rally on the WRC calendar, with a new record pace being achieved this year. The tree-lined, undulating roads and blind corners make it the WRC’s ultimate test of high-speed skill and commitment.
Paddon’s new target of being a top-five gravel contender faces the obstacle that two — and most likely three — Volkswagen drivers will be ahead of him.
That means Paddon must fight for the remaining top-five spots against Citroen drivers Mads Ostberg and Kris Meeke, Ford’s Ott Tanak and Elfyn Evans and his Hyundai teammates Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo.
Paddon drove straight into that fight in Finland and was within striking distance of fourth-placed Ostberg.
Perhaps most tellingly the Kiwi had hammered his Hyundai team-mates. Sordo was 38.2 seconds behind the Kiwi and Neuville trailed by 42 seconds.
Paddon’s best efforts came on stages two and three. Stage two was identical to 2014 and Paddon went 9.6 seconds faster than last year on the 14.51km stage. On the 23.5km stage three has was just 4.8 seconds behind.
The deficit to the frontrunners stretched slightly on the legendary Ouninpohja stage where Paddon said he could feel himself losing time as he struggled for grip but he was again fifth quickest and dropped just 15.9 seconds on the leader over the 34.39km — or 0.46 seconds per kilometre — despite world champ Sebastien Ogier breaking the stage record.
The afternoon stages repeated the morning loop and with some set-up changes to his car Paddon reached the two-thirds split point of stage six just 0.2 seconds slower than Ogier.
But about a kilometre from the finish he took a slightly aggressive cut and broke the steering against a concealed rock. The car was pitched into a series of 150km/h roll-overs from which he and co-driver John Kennard emerged unscathed.
Like the majority of accidents on Finnish roads it was a big one and the car couldn’t be repaired for Paddon to restart on Saturday.
Paddon took responsibility for the cr ances and looked at the positives of his performances in the early stages. Then he immediately re-set his focus on his upcoming rallies.
There’s probably as much to be learned about his confidence and ability from the way he dealt with the Rally Finland set-back as there is from the pace he was able to show before the crash.
Next up is the all-tarmac German round on August 20, where Paddon will dial back the top-five goals and look to build experience. There is no expectation for a top result and the priority will be to complete all three days on the German vineyard and military roads with tarmac driving remains the area where Paddon lacks experience.
Hyundai has a tarmac test session later this week that will provide valuable preparation for Germany.