New Zealand’s world championship-winning rally pairing Hayden Paddon and John Kennard head to Vodafone Rally de Portugal with a single goal: to win the Super 2000 World Rally Championship category.
Paddon is fired up for success in Portugal after recently winning and placing second in two Italian rallies he describes as “low key, but a lot of fun”. Paddon’s ASM Motorsport-prepared Skoda Fabia S2000 car is also refreshed and ready to go having just been fitted with the latest specification, upgraded version of its naturally-aspirated 2-litre engine.
“It’s great to have the upgraded engine for Portugal,” says Paddon, the 24-year-old from Geraldine who moved to Spain earlier this year. “Combined with the developments we will make during testing, we hope to have a very fast car.”
The Portugal event – based in the city of Faro on Portugal’s south coast – marks Paddon’s second event in this year’s FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship after winning the FIA Production World Rally Championship last season. As well as aiming to win the SWRC category in Portugal, Paddon is continually striving to highlight his ever-increasing pace.
“This year is not only about winning the championship; it’s also about showcasing our speed – which we did not do in Sweden.”
Paddon’s long-time co-driver John Kennard, from Blenheim, adds a comment about their first event of the year in Sweden: “Hayden’s tough on himself – as all professional sportspeople are – but the locals thought he did really well on his first-ever snow event. He finished just behind the Swedish rally champion who’s been rallying on snow for years, so fourth in class is a very respectable result.”
Looking forward to returning to a gravel surface in Portugal, Paddon valued the opportunity to drive in the gravel events in Italy events earlier this month.
“We were invited to do these events by HRT Motorsport, a well-regarded Italian rally operation. It was all great, allowing me to get more seat time rather than doing nothing for five or six weeks between Sweden and Portugal. Having legendary Italian co-driver Fabrizia Pons as my co-driver for the first event was fantastic. Fabrizia obviously has a wealth of experience and was able to give me some pointers on improvements I could make to our pace notes system. Some of these suggestions we then put into practice the next rally with John.”
This week Paddon and Kennard have completed a two-day test with the re-engined Skoda in Spain, aiming to learn more about the car and its performance on gravel before heading to Faro with the team.
“We’ve tried many different parts on the car to find the right combination for a solid base setup for gravel.
“Looking at the event itself, we need to win the SWRC category at minimum. There are five SWRC drivers in Portugal including category leader Craig Breen, who we expect to be fast. I would also like to think that we can compete with the two Volkswagen drivers, Sebastién Ogier and Kevin Abbring, who are in S2000-spec Skodas like ours but not registered for SWRC points. They’re my target in terms of outright pace.
“I enjoy Rally Portugal and with two-thirds of the stages being the same, we have some good experience of the event from last year.”
In 2011, in their first event in a new Subaru, Paddon and Kennard won the PWRC category in Portugal with the largest-ever winning margin – 7 minutes, 39.3 seconds – in PWRC history.
Paddon says the rally has a completely new route for day one, “but this is no different to other events. We just have to make sure we write good quality pace notes for these stages and push on like normal.
“We know the roads are generally very hard and abrasive. It is normally warm, although now with the event in March, the temperatures are not so high. If the event is dry, it can be hard on tyres, as the abrasive roads chew the tyres to pieces.
“Another factor is the three night stages Thursday night. If it is dry, these will be a challenge as the dust in Portugal is often very thick, and if there’s no wind, dust will hang. During competition you just have to remind yourself that it is the same for everyone else and it is no different to driving in fog or other conditions like that. We enjoy rallying for the adventures and the adverse conditions that challenge us – dust is just one of them.”
To prepare for the rally, Paddon and Kennard spend Monday and Tuesday doing reconnaissance of the whole rally route in a regular road car, writing their pace notes. Wednesday morning, the pair head to shakedown for the only full speed test in the rally car before the event commences on Thursday afternoon with a super special stage around the Praca do Imperia, a massive city square in Lisbon, Portugal’s capital city.
Competitors then tackle the three night stages in quick succession to complete the 300-kilometre journey back to the event’s base at Faro’s Algarve stadium. After Thursday night’s late finish, it will be after midday on Friday before Paddon and Kennard start the first of six stages – a repeated loop of three tests - the Tavira municipality to the east of Faro.
Saturday’s format is unchanged from 2011 with the same three stages run twice and then among Sunday’s six stages, the final test, the power stage, has been trimmed significantly in length to increase the spectacle for fans watching the live television coverage.
Following Rally Portugal, Paddon and partner Katie Lane will return to New Zealand to prepare for the next event, Brother Rally New Zealand in June.
Paddon’s 2012 campaign is supported by PlaceMakers, Giltrap Group, Skoda, Cameron Sea and Airfreight, Granger Design, Castrol, Raiseys, New Balance, Pope Print, Racetech, Chicane Racewear, Endless Brake Pads, 1 Group web design and Brita Safety.