NEW STAGES WILL SUIT HAYDEN PADDON, WRITES COLIN SMITH
New roads and itinerary changes will challenge the New Zealand duo of Hayden Paddon and John Kennard along with their World Rally Championship rivals in Australia next week. Largely new stages set for Friday September 11 will open the Coffs Harbour-based Coates Hire WRC Rally Australia, round 10 of the FIA World Rally Championship. Four stages — used twice each – on Friday include the 7.88km Utungun, 16.75km Baker’s Creek and 8.42km Northbank stages as new additions to the rally. And about a quarter of the 29.51km Newbury Long stage is also new for 2015. All of the Friday stages are located about 40-50km to the south of the New South Wales coastal city. The first day stages offer Paddon the chance to establish himself among the contenders for the podium result he’s targeting in Australia. ‘‘The new stages will suit us. They are public road rolling farmland stages and going away from some of the stuff they do in the forests,’’ says Paddon. ‘‘I think that is good for us but they are all quite short stages as well, so the main part of the rally is pretty similar to last year.’’ Saturday’s route is concentrated into only four stages. The short Valla stage and the rally’s signature stage – Nambucca – which has been extended slightly this year to 50.80km. Being used twice, Nambucca represents almost one-third of the competitive driving. ‘‘It’s probably my favourite stage of the rally,’’ says Paddon.
Hayden Paddon. Picture/Vettas Media.
‘‘It’s quite fast and flowing with a few changes of rhythm. But because of the nature of the stage you often don’t see big gaps in the stage times — although you might on the first pass because the guys up in front will be sweeping the gravel.’’ Paddon is happy the Rally Australia organisers have dropped the 1.56km super special stage – that was used four times in 2014 – but there is still be after-dark action this year.
Rally recipe suits Paddon and Kennard
The second run through the 7.94km Valla stage will see the WRC cars fitted with spotlights to bring the Saturday action to a close. ‘‘Having no super stage suits us absolutely perfectly. So it’s probably the perfect rally for us in having no super specials, one night stage that we enjoy and new public road stages. The recipe is there to suit us down to the ground.’’ On Sunday – when the stage venues are just north of the coastal city — there are five stages with some more new roads to challenge the crews. About half of the Bucca Long stage is new extending the stage to 21.95km while a new Settles Rd stage has been added. There’s familiar territory in the 9.23km Wedding Bells stage used twice, including the finale of the event as the bonus points Power Stage. While some of the stages are new one thing that Paddon will find familiar is the level of Kiwi support that will be lining the roads next weekend. ‘‘We are sold out on our tour with basically 100 people and I think with all the other Kiwis coming over it’s going to be even bigger than last year,’’ he says. ‘‘It’s good for us to have so much support there but it’s also good to show the rally world that Kiwis do care about rallying and help to get Rally New Zealand back [on the WRC calendar] in the future.’’ Paddon will drive the number 8 Hyundai i20 WRC at Rally Australia as Hyundai Motorsport shuffles its driver line-up. The Kiwi pair will be able to score WRC Manufacturers’ Championship points for Hyundai alongside Belgian team-mate Thierry Neuville while Spaniard Dani Sordo switches to Paddon’s usual number 20 entry for the Hyundai N team. Paddon’s preparation for next weekend’s rally begins with pace note reconnaissance of the special stages on Tuesday and Wednesday before the Shakedown stage and ceremonial start on Thursday.