Paddon predicts revved-up WRC
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Volkswagen's sudden exit could provide a more competitive World Rally Championship in 2017, according to Kiwi rally star Hayden Paddon.
The Hyundai Motorsport driver has offered some early thoughts about next year's WRC that will be notable for a new generation of cars and the absence of the Volkswagen team. Volkswagen has quit the sport after sweeping the driver's and manufacturers' titles for the past four years.
"It's a shame Volkswagen has pulled out, but you have to look for the positives in everything," says Paddon. Although Volkswagen has quit the sport, Toyota is returning in 2017 with a Yaris WRC, and Citroen's effort becomes a fully-fledged factory programme again with a new car based on the C3 hatchback. Hyundai Motorsport also has a new car for the 2017 regulations.
"Now the driver market has been thrown right up in the air," Paddon said.
But he isn't speculating on where the soon-to-be-former VW drivers may end up for 2017.
"I think you are going to have a lot of good drivers in various cars so I think there is the potential the championship is going to be a lot more closely fought between different brands,' he said.
"It could be quite interesting to see different makes of cars being competitive. But it's also difficult because at the same time it reduces the chances for younger drivers. All of a sudden, where there was a market for drivers, there is now a shortage of seats. So, it does the reduce the opportunities for new drivers to come in."
Much of Paddon's anticipation for 2017 is based on the new regulations, which will bring more powerful cars with more advanced aerodynamics and the return of electronically controlled differentials for the sports premier category.
He's recently been logging test miles in Hyundai's 2017 car, which is based on the three-door body style of the New Generation i20 hatchback.
"It's a lot more exciting to drive with more power and there's slightly different handling with the new geometry and wider track," Paddon said.
"The new car is certainly faster but what we don't know yet is how the cars stack up against each other -- which we won't know till the first few rallies next year.
"All we can do is the best job we can in testing and development. So far I'd say our team is on track at the moment."
Paddon lines up for the final round in Australia on November 18 at Coffs Harbour on the NSW coast with the opportunity to climb from his current fourth ranking in the 2016 point standings to achieve a podium finish.
"We all want to finish the year on a high," Paddon said.
"We want to get a good result on what is essentially our home rally so I think it will be a good battle. There are no championships on the line, everyone can go hell for leather and let the best man win, I guess."
Immediately following Rally Australia, Paddon is back in New Zealand for some PR events.
"Then we go back to Europe for winter testing to prep for Monte Carlo and also for the launch of the new car."
Paddon is also finalising details for Hyundai's rally programme in New Zealand next year with the locally built AP4 specification i20 he campaigned at the Otago and Whangarei events earlier this year.
"We have some big plans for the New Zealand Rally Champs. It will be much bigger programme involving other drivers next year," says Paddon. The provisional dates for the Otago Rally -- which opens the 2017 New Zealand Rally Championship -- is April 7-9, a weekend that provides a clash for the WRC event in Corsica.