Hayden Paddon heartened by local rallying
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A seven-rally 2018 WRC programme with Hyundai Motorsport has given Hayden Paddon a chance to re-focus on Kiwi rallying — and he likes what he sees.
Paddon dominated the NZ Rally Championship opener at Otago this month and will be a clear favourite for round two at Whangarei over the May 4-6 weekend.
He says the line-up of new generation AP4 cars and talented drivers show the domestic rallying scene is healthy.
“It’s good to see a modern fleet of cars at the start line and various manufacturers,” Paddon says. “There’s a mix of young talent and experienced drivers so it’s a good range of drivers.
“I was impressed at Otago. I think Ben (Hunt) did a really good job and Emma (Gilmour) also drove a good rally. Between the top five or six [battling behind Paddon] the positions were chopping and changing every stage with only a few seconds between them.
“It was good competition for the first rally of the season, and once they go to Whangarei with a two-pass recce they are going to pick up the pace a bit.”
Paddon has championed the concept of locally developed AP4 rally cars which has brought his Hyundai i20 and a field including Mazda Holden, Audi, Ford and Mitsubishi-based cars to local events to refresh the rallying spectacle.
Some leading drivers have been early adopters of the AP4 concept and Paddon believes more will come.
“We’ve seen the initial fleet of cars and I think a second phase will come. There are a few new cars coming this year and we’re hoping to have new cars in the future. The current cars will get sold at cheaper prices and be more affordable for the mid-field to start buying them.
“Maybe, in two years, we’ll start seeing 20 AP4 cars but it will take time. They are still expensive cars but it’s much cheaper than an R5 for example.”
Otago was a good measure of the development of his car as the first event he’s contested for a second time since the car debuted in early 2016.
“When we did Otago two years ago it was the first rally for the car and it was a bit of a rush get it there.
“The car was unrestricted two years ago so we had the good part of 80hp more than we have now with the restrictor.
“Now it doesn’t wow you power-wise but handling-wise we’ve come on leaps and bounds in two years.
“The car is nice to drive now. I drive the car rather than the car driving me, and at Dunedin this year we were beating our stage records from two years ago when we had 80hp more. That shows the steps we’ve made.”
Paddon says the AP4 formula is right for New Zealand. “For me, we are on the other side of the world and we need to do what’s best for Kiwi competitors.
“We had the days of following FIA rules, which we did for the WRC, but the chances of getting that back again are far-fetched. We need to keep our rules open and be able to use Kiwi ingenuity.
“There are lots of people who want to write AP4 off because of the cost. But if you want to rally any modern car, no matter what rules you follow, it’s going to cost money. It’s a matter of people being patient and waiting for cars to filter through.”
Paddon says there’s still a place for competitors to driv3 older cars, and rallying remains a sport where talent can outshine equipment.
“I think people get too hung up on having the latest and greatest thing. If you put a good driver in a 20-year-old car or a good driver in a new car, they are going to go virtually the same speed.”
Paddon’s’s next local appearance is the ENEOS Oils International Rally of Whangarei which doubles as the opening round of the 2018 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship and round two of the NZ Rally Championship.
The rally begins with two Friday evening runs through the Pohe Island super special stage while 16 gravel special stages with 277km of competitive driving provide the Saturday-Sunday itinerary.