Hayden Paddon grabs surprise podium to end 2017 WRC season
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Hayden Paddon will take a last gasp podium finish and new ideas to pursue with fine-tuning the set-up of the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC away WRC Rally Australia which finished in Coffs Harbour this afternoon.
Paddon has completed the final round of the World Championship in third place, gaining a position on the final Power Stage when Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala crashed his Toyota out of second place.
Paddon joined Hyundai’s rally winner Thierry Neuville (Belgium) and Ford driver Ott Tanak (Estonia) on the podium to end his troubled season on a high note and climb from 10th to eighth in the final championship standings.
It was a consistent rather than front-running weekend for Paddon as he continued to seek a comfortable set-up from the Hyundai that suits his driving style.
"It was obviously unfortunate for Jari-Matti on the last stage but we have had a clean rally and made no mistakes. We are still looking for more speed,’’ said Paddon.
"Last year we missed the podium here with a puncture on the last day and this year we got the podium on the last day."
Winners Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul. Photo / PHOTOGRAPHY INMOTION, Greg Henderson
"It boosts the confidence a bit. The biggest thing for me this weekend is just to have more of an understanding of why we have been struggling this year and to have the backing of the team for that as well. It’s positive for the future.
"It’s about finding the information. You can’t fix things in a rally but now we can go testing and focus on some different things to what we have done in the past.’’
Rally Australia was Paddon’s second podium of the 2017 season and it betters his previous career-best finish in Australia of fourth last year.
The second New Zealand driver in action at Coffs Harbour this weekend was Bay of Plenty’s Mike Young making his WRC debut in a Citroen DS3 R3T. Young and co-driver Malcolm Read (Hamilton) continued their climb up the rankings during the Sunday stages and have finished 17th overall and the highest raced two-wheel-drive competitors.
Stephane Lefebvre's damaged Citroen DS3. Photo / PHOTOGRAPHY INMOTION, Greg Henderson
Paddon’s 2018 programme with the Hyundai Motorsport WRC team has yet to be confirmed beyond a start at the second round of the season in Sweden in February.
The team recently signed Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway) to its driver roster and will have to find a way to accommodate four contracted drivers in its three-car line-up.
It’s expected that Neuville and Mikkelsen will compete at all 2018 rallies while Paddon and Spaniard Dani Sordo will have a split programme in Hyundai’s third car. Sordo’s outings are expected to have a tarmac emphasis and Paddon will get his chances on gravel events.
"There’s a lot of work to do in the next two or three months, not just on the car but on myself as well to make sure we are much stronger next year,’’ said Paddon.
Paddon does have one more rally on his 2017 programme, returning home this coming weekend to contest the Tauranga-based Rally of New Zealand in his locally built Hyundai i20 AP4 with John Kennard returning to the co-driver’s seat.
It is the final round of the national rally championship and the event originally conceived as a WRC dress rehearsal when New Zealand still held hopes of inclusion on the 2018 world championship calendar.