Rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty determine rally success. Hayden Paddon recons kiwi ingenuity and long nights in the workshop give him an edge
Away from the service parks where huge spare parts inventories and drilled squads of technicians reside, a WRC crew is on its own. The driver and co-driver fend for themselves on the roadside, whether it’s detail suspension set-up changes or emergency repairs.
So what goes on between stages at a WRC event when the driving gloves come off and mechanics gloves go on?
Ahead of WRC Rally Australia this weekend Driven asked Hyundai’s Kiwi star Hayden Paddon to run through the roadside routine. “Back in the day when we were doing national rallying we’d adjust the tyre pressures between stages and sometimes swap the tyres front-to-rear, says Paddon. “But today at this level we are looking for every edge that we can find.
“There’s a set-up plan that we confirm after the recce and for each stage we’ll have a slight variation on the car set-up. “So between stages we could be lifting or dropping the ride height and doing damper clicks. We could be changing differential pre-loads.
“We’re doing tyre pressures and often we front-to-rear the tyres and we’re using the spare — utilising all five tyres, not just the four on the car. And if there are any problems we are trying to sort them out as well.”
Tyre pressure checks are a apart of preparation for every stage.
Crews can only use spares or tools carried on the car and must not receive physical outside assistance.
“There are three different tool kits in the car and each is for a specific job. Every tool is cut down and made as lightweight as possible,” says Paddon.
“Then we have some sensors and small parts in case we have any mechanical problems.
“Sometimes you are looking at sensor failures and then you can try to diagnose a problem with the engineers over the phone to work out what the problem could be.
“You will be replacing sensors or coils. We’ve had to replace alternator belts on the side of the road and replacing suspension arms is a common one between stages if you have bent or broken one.
“We carry a couple of spare arms and we can change the arms on the car and then try to put the wheel alignment right just using the naked eye.”
Haydon Paddon (right) and co-driver John Kennard have to be pit crew when they are racing. Pictures/Hyundai Motorsport.
All the time the crew is working against the clock. For each minute late at a time control there is a 10-second penalty — time that is almost impossible to claw back in the white-hot competition of modern rallying where tenths of a second count.
As well as inspired driving, Paddon’s maiden WRC podium in Sardinia earlier this year also owes something to Kiwi roadside repair skills. He and co-driver John Kennard nursed the car through two stages and back to the service park with broken engine mounts.
“It’s getting up there when you are trying to hold an engine and everything in place with a couple of tie straps,” says Paddon. “That was a big fix, sort of damage limitation really.”
Crews are trained by the teams so they know how their cars are put together.
Keep pace with the race
Hayden Paddon and John Kennard are driving for Hyundai Motorsport at WRC Rally Australia this weekend. The Coffs Harbour-based event is round 10 of the FIA World Rally Championship. It starts on Friday and finishes on Sunday and comprises 17 gravel stages totalling 311km. Colin Smith is covering the rally — follow his reports at driven.co.nz
“When we first started with the team, John and I spent a full day in the workshop going through the basics of pulling parts on and off the car so we understood how it all worked.
“Now we’ve been there about 18 months you naturally learn how the car is put together.
“I try to get to the workshop at least once a week between rallies and when you’re there you look over your car and see what the guys are doing and try to be hands-on when you can.”
Like most Kiwi rally drivers, Paddon was very much hands-on with his own team preparing cars for local events.
“That’s a huge help. I always enjoyed that aspect of it with my mates working on the car every night of the week and the weekend.
Hayen Paddon and John Kennard completing a roadside tyre swap at Rally Australia last year. Pictures/Hyundai Motorsport
“I haven’t come from a mechanical background or been trained [but] my father was a mechanic so he taught me a lot.
“I think it gives you mechanical sympathy as well. When things are going wrong with the car during a rally or something is broken it gives you an understanding of how hard you can push that part.
“When something is broken the number one job is still to get the car to the end of the rally.
“Sometimes you have to balance between pushing too hard and breaking it completely or just backing off enough to preserve it. I’d back ourselves to get a car back [to service] provided it’s got four wheels on it.”
It’s one more part of the challenge that Paddon loves about his sport.
In contrast to the roadside work the WRC service park is a fully equiped workshop. Pictures/Hyundai Motorsport
“Rallying is you and the car against the elements and when you are out on the stages you are on your own, essentially.
“Sometimes you need a little luck with these things but the Kiwi ingenuity way helps a lot. You look for the strangest way to hold something together — whether it’s 10 tie wraps, a bit of duct tape or some straps.
“The Kiwi way is to look outside the box to repair things and I think that works in our favour.”