Paddon in with chance to secure PWRC title in Australia
New Zealand’s top rally driver Hayden Paddon heads to [this] weekend’s World Rally Championship event in Australia with the history-making possibility of becoming the first ever competitor from the Southern Hemisphere to win a world rally title.
Paddon, a 24-year-old from Geraldine, with his Blenheim-based co-driver John Kennard, are understandably excited about the possibility of wrapping up the 2011 FIA Production World Rally Championship at Rally Australia, running in the Coffs Coast region of New South Wales from 8 to 11 September. But the Kiwis know they have a job to do and that’s to finish the event, and finish well.
“If we win the production class in Australia in our CR Properties/Placemakers Subaru STI, we win the title, which would certainly be a dream come true,” says Paddon who finished third in the PWRC last year. “But we are not getting too far ahead of ourselves. First, we have a rally to run.”
The 2011 season has seen the two-time New Zealand rally champion win all three PWRC events he has contested in Portugal, Argentina and Finland. The Portuguese victory was particularly significant – not only was it the first rally for Paddon’s newly-formed New Zealand World Rally Team which works with Belgium-based Symtech Racing to run a production specification Subaru in six world rally events, but also because Paddon and Kennard delivered the largest winning margin – 7 minutes, 39.3 seconds – in PWRC history.
After Rally Finland in July, Paddon currently tops the PWRC leader-board with 75 points. His closest rival, Czech Martin Semerad, has 50 points, but won’t be competing in Australia – Semerad hasn’t nominated Australia as one of his six PWRC events. Third-placed Swedish driver Patrik Flodin, with 34 points, is also skipping Australia. Paddon, Semerad and Flodin will campaign the final two PWRC events of the year in Spain and Great Britain, but with 25 points for the category winner up for grabs in Australia, Paddon may secure the title with two rounds to go.
As always, Paddon has a plan for how he intends to approach the rally. “Because we do have a buffer in the championship it means we can just concentrate on going flat-out in Australia and trying to make more of an impression based on our outright speed. If we can do that, then the rest will fall into place.”
Paddon will be watching other production category competitors like Polish ace Michal Kosciuszko and Finnish driver Jukka Ketomaki who is driving Paddon’s championship-winning, New Zealand-based Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9.
“The two Australians, Brendan Reeves and Nathan Quinn, will pose the biggest challenge as they’ll have some knowledge of the roads around Coffs Harbour which are used in the Australian national championship, but haven’t been used for a WRC event before.
“Any of these drivers could take PWRC points away from me, but on the other hand, I’ve beaten them all before, so we’ll just have to run our own rally and see how it all comes together from there.”
Rally Australia takes in 368.96km of competitive stages, starting with two runs of the Coffs Harbour super special stage on Thursday evening, before heading north and south over the following three days.
Paddon says running on unfamiliar roads brings its own challenges. “But I have always enjoyed new events as it’s more about John’s and my ability to prepare good pace notes during reconnaissance, rather than knowledge of the roads. We don’t know exactly what the roads are like, but I think we can expect a few to be pretty fast.”
Paddon’s full New Zealand team joins him for the first time on a PWRC event this season to run the New Possum Bourne Motorsport-built, CR Properties/Placemakers-backed Subaru that he used to win Rally Otago and Rally New Zealand earlier this year.
“It’s just fantastic to have our home team with us in Australia – these guys have all been with me since day one and if we could win a world championship title with them there, it would be very special. It is a bit sad that we couldn’t bring the Symtech team over to Australia as well – ideally we would have liked to share the event with them but unfortunately budget did not permit this. But John and I have two more rounds with them this year in Spain and Great Britain and they will be fully supporting us over the weekend.”
Paddon is hands-on when it comes to car preparation, working with his team-mates to rebuild the Subaru over the past few weeks and sending it off sea-freight two weeks ago. “The car’s looking and running great!”
More than 50 supporters are travelling to Rally Australia in an official Paddon tour group. “It’s really exciting to have our supporters’ tour joining us in Australia and with so many other Kiwis likely to be at the event, the New Zealand flags will certainly be waved high.”
Paddon and Kennard arrived in Coffs Harbour on Sunday to prepare for the reconnaissance runs through all the rally’s special stages on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, they get a full speed shakedown run in the CR Properties/Placemakers Subaru STI before joining in the official start celebrations and tackling the fan-friendly evening sprints around the super special stage right in the heart of Coffs Harbour. The rally proper begins on Friday morning with two runs through three rural stages before repeating the harbour-side super special stage on Friday evening. Saturday’s schedule comprises two runs through four rural stages before yet another round of harbour-side super special stage action between 6 and 8pm. The event wraps up on Sunday with two runs through three rural stages north of Coffs Harbour before returning to the ceremonial finish at 5:30 on Sunday evening.