Paddon strives for top ten finish at WRC Wales Rally GB
There’s no easing off the throttle for New Zealand’s champion rally driver Hayden Paddon who has two goals at this week’s World Rally Championship finale in the United Kingdom.
The 24-year-old gets to secure his record-making World Production Rally Championship title simply by starting the three-day Wales Rally GB on 10 November.
Paddon is also gunning for a top ten finish in the hugely-popular British event, where the Geraldine-based Kiwi will be partnered by co-driver John Kennard from Blenheim, despite driving a brand-new R4-spec Subaru rally car that was completed literally days before the start.
“We are going to push for a top ten finish; it will not be easy, but we will push hard,” says Paddon from Wales where he successfully tested the just-finished car on Sunday 7 November (UK time).
“The Symtech team has done an incredible job of building a very good car in a short space of time and we had absolutely no dramas during our test. There was great anticipation within the team when we started on Sunday morning to see what we thought of the car right out of the box. It surprised us all, as not only is this car a much improved package, but our base set-up also worked very well. Throughout the day we made several changes while learning how these changes affected the new geometry from which we gained a lot more time and speed. The end result is a car that is much more stable, agile, lighter and more balanced package than the PWRC car. The team has a few finishing touches to make to the car while John and I are doing reconnaissance, then I’m really looking forward to the rally and comparing ourselves against some of the SWRC cars.”
In terms of his objectives for Wales Rally GB, Paddon says: “The main objective of the rally is to get an indication of the performance of the R4 as it is still in its early stages of development and, with more homologated parts being approved for next season, it has the potential to be even faster. It’s also about getting some data and information from the event to help STI [Subaru Technica International (STI), the motorsport arm of Japanese Subaru manufacturer Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd] and Symtech Racing [Paddon’s Belgium-based team] to continue developing the car.”
The fact that Paddon is driving the new R4-spec Subaru indicates the regard in which he is now held by key decision-makers in the rally sport world.
STI sporting manager George Donaldson, who has been managing a small programme of events for the Subaru Impreza R4 this year, said: “The working relationship between Hayden and the Symtech team is terrific, so we can have high hopes of a top performance in this year’s final WRC event.”
Paddon says he has every confidence in the new R4 Subaru. “The Subaru is a reliable car and all the mechanicals such as engine, gearbox and diffs are out of our championship-winning PWRC car, which we know has been a proven package. It is going to be a matter of re-engineering the suspension geometry which is quite a bit different between the Group N and R4 spec, but knowing that the rest is sorted, we can just focus on that.”
The Subaru R4 is a development from the current Group N production car that Paddon has driven this season. Introduced by the FIA to allow two-litre turbocharged Group N cars to compete with existing Super 2000 machinery, the R4 Subaru is around 150kg lighter than the current Group N Subaru STI with more adjustable suspension with greater travel and better geometry and handling.
Paddon and Kennard start Wales Rally GB as ‘priority two’ or P2 drivers, starting amongst the Super 2000 competitors.
“We won’t be earning PWRC points – but no one can beat us there anyway and we have these goals with the R4 we want to achieve. It’s an advantage to be seeded further up the field and we’re aiming to get closer in pace to the SWRC guys. Although Rally GB is not a round of S2000 World Rally Championship, there are still some really good S2000 drivers here including some locals and the VW test drivers who are using Skodas. The gap between Group N and S2000 is not completely closed with the R4 but it is certainly a step in the right direction and if we can find the sweet spot with the car then we should be able to get much closer.”
Paddon finished third among the PWRC competitors at this event in 2010 to secure third place on his debut in the PWRC as one of the five Pirelli Star Drivers. This year, he says, the rally takes a whole new route. “It starts right up in the top of Wales and works its way down through Wales over the three days, with many new stages and some used in previous years. It’s the European rally that’s most similar to New Zealand - generally a fast and flowing, wet, muddy event with some of the stages offering a lot of grip and some tight sections.”
Wales Rally GB runs from 10 to 13 November, covering forest and gravel roads in a wide area around Cardiff.
After the Welsh event, which wraps up the 2011 FIA World Rally Championship season, Paddon returns to New Zealand where he’ll participate in a week-long, nation-wide road show with sponsors PlaceMakers and Subaru. Starting in Auckland on 23 November, Paddon will visit many PlaceMakers and Subaru outlets throughout the country to end in Dunedin. “We’ll have more details out after Rally GB about which stores we’re visiting and the day and time of each visit. There are so many giveaways and prizes; it’s going to be really exciting!”
Then, in the second week of December, Paddon heads to the annual FIA gala – in India this year – where he’ll be presented with the silverware for his production world rally championship title.
Paddon appreciates the support of his team, his many supporters around New Zealand and across the world and his valued financial partners, which include Subaru New Zealand, EDL Fasteners, PlaceMakers, Van Leeuwen Dairy, Milwaukee, Racetech Seats, Castrol, Dunlop, Radio Sport, Radio Hauraki, Camerons Sea and Air Freight, Endless Brakes, In-tune Automotive, All About Signs, Total Automotive, Reaction Racing, Raiseys Sport Nutrition, Chicane Racewear, RallyTours, Alto Lab, Pope Print, Granger Design, Bluebridge Ferry, 1 Group and Symtech Racing for their support with his 2011 campaign.