WELSH WINTER RACING A TEST FOR WRC KIWI, WRITES COLIN SMITH
The World Rally Championship races back into winter conditions for its 2015 finale in the slippery forests of Mid and North Wales starting on Friday.
For the Kiwi duo of Hayden Paddon and John Kennard, WRC Wales Rally GB is a chance to be key players in the last significant battle of the 2015 Championship.
Paddon will get his third chance of the 2015 campaign to score Manufacturers’ Championship points for Hyundai Motorsport.
The Korean team has promoted the Kiwis to the main squad alongside Spaniard Dani Sordo in a move that could be interpreted as both a test for Paddon and an attempt to rebuild Thierry Neuville’s form by freeing him from the pressures of scoring manufacturers’ points. Hyundai Motorsport goes into the final round with a four-point deficit to Citroen in its quest to finish runner-up in the manufacturer’s title in its second WRC season.
Volkswagen Motorsport clinched the manufacturers’ title at Rally Australia in September and Frenchman Sebastien Ogier wrapped up the driver’s title in Corsica.
There’s an outside chance that Norway’s Andreas Mikkelsen could overhaul team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala (Finland) for second in the driver’s title.
But the most interesting battle is for runner-up manufacturers’ honours and the challenge isn’t lost on Paddon. Nor is the fact that Neuville made it tougher for the team when he slipped off the road in the penultimate stage in Spain.
Although he back-pedalled from his initial stage-end comments, Paddon’s frustrated reaction to Neuville’s incident was an accurate assessment of its big impact on Hyundai’s hopes.
Paddon later said his comments had been overly harsh when it emerged Neuville’s excursion was caused by a broken driveshaft. But the damage had been done on the scoreboard and instead of Hyundai and Citroen being poised for a final round showdown equal on points, Hyundai fell four points behind.
Four points might not sound like much, but in a championship where the Citroen, Hyundai and M-Sport Ford drivers have for the most part scrapped over the points the dominant Volkswagen squad has left on the table, it’s a fair sized gap to make up. Another Volkswagen sweep of the podium isn’t out of the question and would leave the Hyundai, Citroen and Ford drivers disputing fourth place and back — where the points differences are much smaller. Any of those drivers who can battle with VW will have the chance to land valuable points.
The ceremonial rally start for WRC Wales Rally GB is at Llandudno and the service park is at Deeside. The final round follows the typical 2-day format of modern-era WRC events.
There are six stages on Friday, providing 133km of competition with a tyre-fitting zone after three stages rather than a mid-day service opportunity. The 32.14km Hafren stage and the return of the 31.8km Myherin stage are split by the 2.4km amphitheatre spectator stage at Sweet Lamb.
Saturday is the longest day and demands about 16 hours on the road. There are nine stages, totalling 142km, with the final two stages run in darkness.
On Sunday there are five stages including the signature 4.7km tarmac sprint around the Great Orme headland. Just 36km of competition is on the schedule for Sunday with the 10.5km Brenig test being the Power Stage with bonus points on offer.