Paddon's first event with new co-driver Sebastian Marshall set
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Hayden Paddon will get an early chance to work with his new British co-driver Sebastian Marshall when the pair compete in Hyundai’s R5 specification i20 at the next round of the Italian Rally Championship later this month.
Paddon will use Rallye Sanremo, which runs from March 29 till April 1, as a tarmac shakedown ahead of the next WRC event in Corsica next month.
Marshall, 27, was confirmed yesterday as Paddon’s new co-driver at the Hyundai Motorsport team, taking over from John Kennard who will step away from co-driving duties after WRC Rally Finland in late-July.
Marshall has been part of the Hyundai Motorsport programme alongside Dutch driver Kevin Abbring in a limited programme of WRC events and as the lead crew on development of the R5 version of the i20 rally car.
The Italian event will give Paddon valuable tarmac competition ahead of the next round of the World Rally Championship in Corsica next month as well as provide the starting point for the new partnership with Marshall.
Much of the 177km of special stages will take place on a similar type of road to those which make up the WRC stages in Corsica.
"Competing the week before the Tour de Corse should be the perfect warmup for that event," said Paddon.
"It will be a good opportunity to get some more mileage on tarmac on very twisty and demanding roads that are similar to Corsica."
"The Italian drivers who know the stages will be very fast, while it’ll be our first time there so we’re not focusing on results, but instead concentrating on development and improvement for the future."
"The whole purpose of the rally is just to get more time behind the wheel and to get more comfortable on tarmac."
"The speed will be a little bit different but I’m excited be able to drive the New Generation i20 R5 for the first time. With Seb sitting in the car with me, it’s also a chance for us develop our partnership with an eye on the future."
British co-driver Sebastian Marshall. Photo / Supplied
The Paddon-Kennard partnership has run for 12 years but there has always been the expectation that Kennard, 58, would step aside for a younger co-driver.
Joining forces in 2005, the Paddon and Kennard combination won the New Zealand Rally Championship in 2008 and 2009 and then moved onto the world stage as part of the Pirelli Star Driver Programme which earned third place in the 2010 Production World Rally Championship.
The following year the Kiwi duo clinched the Production WRC title while their biggest achievement together was a historic victory at Rally Argentina last year as the first New Zealanders to ever win a round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
"John has played a huge part in my career since we started working together at the end of 2005," Paddon said.
"We have achieved so much together and it has been quite a journey of highs and lows. It’s certainly sad to end the partnership, but we have been discussing over the last couple of years when was the best for both of us to make the transition with an eye towards the future."
"I can’t thank John enough for everything he’s contributed in these 12 years, but this is not the end. He will stay involved, helping me behind the scenes and, as he has played an important part in the journey so far, it’s only natural that he remains a part of it."
For Kennard his farewell at Rally Finland sees his rally career run full-circle as he first contested in a WRC event alongside fellow Kiwi Brent Rawstron at Rally Finland in 1985.
"After 12 years as Hayden’s co-driver, it will be hard to lever myself out of that Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC seat for the last time," said Kennard.
"But our deal has always been that I help Hayden in the most effective way possible and to have been his co-driver for so long, has been incredibly fulfilling and rewarding."
"When we first got in a car together, in 2006, the dream of winning the WRC seemed so far away, but now, as we push to achieve that ultimate goal, it's timely that we re-arrange roles for maximum effect and to help complete the quest we’re all on – to bring the WRC Championship trophy home to New Zealand."
The mid-season switch will see Marshall in the car alongside Paddon for the final four events of the 2017 WRC season in Germany, Spain, Great Britain and Australia.