Hayden Paddon: Great Expectations
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Paddon and Kennard contesting all 14 rounds of WRC Championship
With a new car, a full-season programme and his signature on a three-year Hyundai contract, Hayden Paddon believes one of the challenges in 2016 will be managing expectations — to a large extent his own.
‘‘We’ve had a reasonably good year but I don’t like to be standing still, I want to continue making progress,’’ says Paddon after a breakthrough 2015 effort that brought a maiden WRC podium in Sardinia along with five other top-five finishes.
‘‘I guess with the podium [Sardinia] coming so early in the season it probably raised not only my own expectations but everyone else’s,’’ says Paddon.
‘‘We haven’t quite been able to deliver the same result since so there’s a little bit of disappointment in not being able to do that.
‘‘But all-in-all, if you told me at the start of the year we could have a podium, six top-fives and a contract this year then I definitely would have taken that, so I’m not going to complain too much.’’
Now Paddon and co-driver John Kennard are looking to make another step when they contest all 14 rounds of the 2016 championship.
‘‘Now we are regularly in the top-five the window of opportunity to make progress is getting smaller and smaller as we get closer to the front,’’ he says.
‘‘And there is a lot of expectation from team management, the media and the fans that the new car is going to perform.
‘‘So expectations will be a biggest thing to manage next year.’’
The second generation Hyundai i20 WRC is the focus of those expectations as Hyundai Motorsport begins year three of its WRC effort.
Paddon has driven the new car on three occasions and will be back behind the wheel in early-December as the short WRC off-season races towards the season opening Monte Carlo Rally in January.
‘‘We’ve done two gravel tests and one tarmac test. The car is now past the development stage and the guys in Europe are testing it now to get all the set-ups ready for Monte Carlo and Sweden. We’ll go back and do our test in the new car for Sweden.’’
Paddon says the new car already looks promising.
‘‘Obviously testing and rallying are two different things and we won’t really know where we stand against our competitors till we’re on the stages, but the feeling in the car is very good and gives us a bit of confidence.’’
Volkswagen the benchmark
With rivals Citroen pulling back from a full programme in 2016 — but set to return with a new car in 2017 — rally fans have their hopes pinned on Hyundai offering a challenge to triple world champions Volkswagen.
Paddon sees pros and cons in Citroen’s plan to only contest selected events in 2016.
‘‘On the positive note it’s good they are coming back in 2017 with a full assault when Toyota arrive as well,’’ says Paddon.
‘‘Next year it means there is one less team to battle with so there is a window of opportunity for us be up the front and trying to win rallies.
‘‘Volkswagen is obviously the benchmark and that’s who we all want to catch and beat,’’ says Paddon.
‘‘On average over the course of the year we have generally been about 0.3 to 0.4 of a second per kilometres behind.
‘‘It doesn’t sound like much but as we know in rallying that’s quite a gap to bridge. So the new car has to be quite a good step and it seems to be quite a big improvement in all the areas we lack in at the moment.
‘‘But how much quicker it really is we won’t know till probably the third or fourth rally of the year. Monte Carlo and Sweden are specialist events so we have wait till we get to the normal gravel rallies a bit later in the year.’’
Paddon doesn’t know if his Monte Carlo Rally debut will behind the wheel of the new i20 WRC or a final outing in the current car.
‘‘I’m not sure yet if we’ll be in the new car for Monte Carlo as we are not sure if there will be two or three new cars built in time.’’
But the Monte Carlo series opener is likely to be one of the events where Paddon won’t have the additional pressure of being one of the two drivers nominated to score Manufacturers’ points.
Hyundai has yet to announce one of its three drivers — Thierry Neuville, Dani Sordo and Paddon — will be nominated as the 2016 team-leader. More clarity on that is likely when Hyundai officially reveals the new car on December 9.
But Paddon contributed fifth place points on each of the three occasions he drove for the main team this year and it’s likely the three drivers will be rotated even more regularly in 2016.
‘‘The rule is the team has to nominate one driver for a minimum of 10 rallies. Other than that the team is free to shift drivers around,’’ says Paddon.
‘‘Personally I think it’s a strong point of our team that we have three drivers and we each have our strong rallies.
‘‘They can change us around to allow them to potentially score the maximum points possible on each event so it’s a nice little card we have up our sleeve but how it works out I’m not quite sure.’’
Rallying’s off-season gives Paddon a brief chance to re-evaluate the details of his approach.
‘‘All the principle things will remain the same. But you want to fine-tune things so I have some slightly different training and mental techniques. John and I are always refining our pace notes.
‘‘We go through the systems and look at what worked and what didn’t. We want to improve every element of what we are doing and that’s no different to between each rally, except that between seasons you have a bit more time.’’
Paddon has set his targets high for 2016.
‘‘Definitely a first win, that has to be a minimum. If we want to have a chance to fight for the championship in the future we need to be winning rallies,’’ he says.
‘‘And if we can start converting the top-fives we’ve been having recently into more regular podiums that would be nice as well.’’