The second round of the 2016 FIA World Rally Championship runs in next weekend.
Rally driver Hayden Paddon and his co-driver John Kennard are as prepared as they can be to tackle the high speed snow and ice of Rally Sweden in their New Generation i20 World Rally Car (WRC).
New Zealand’s most successful combination in world rallying heads to the second round of the 2016 FIA World Rally Championship, which runs 11-14 February, excited by the challenges ahead on what is one of the fastest rallies on the world circuit.
Paddon says he’s looking forward to facing Sweden’s snow and ice.
“I really enjoy the fast nature of the stages in Sweden – they are some of the fastest in the whole championship,” says Paddon having secured his first-ever top five WRC finish on this event last year.
“Having competed here in a world rally car for the first time here last year means we have more of an idea what to expect from the conditions, the speed of the stages, our pace notes and the car setup. The grip with the studded tyre – our only tyre option – is quite good, but this year it looks as though there may not be much snow which will be a new challenge for everyone. Also, with this being our first event in the New Generation i20 WRC, we do have a few things to adapt to, but we are definitely ready.”
The car is certainly a step forward, however we are starting from scratch with setups and information on the car.
Assessing their performance gains with the experience of 12 WRC events behind them, Paddon says: “Twelve months on as a driver and co-driver pairing, John and I have made considerable gains in terms of performance and skills to add to our physical seat-time on-event.
“We have a lot of pace notes from last year, so that is a big help with our preparation. We have further fine-tuned our note system to try and find a few more tenths of speed.”
Co-driver John Kennard adds: “Sweden is a very fast event, so things happen even quicker in terms of relaying our note. And because everything outside is a bit monochromatic, you can lose some of your visual references. It’s even more important to have the awareness of where in the notes, I’m at as I’m conveying them to Hayden.”
Paddon aims to be fighting at the front in Sweden and all subsequent WRC events this year. “I have my own performance goals for each rally, so we’ll be continuing on from where we left off last year and the core focus is on the preparation, process and personal development towards the end goal.”
During rally week, Paddon and Kennard have a day of testing in the new Hyundai on Sunday before undertaking the controlled speed pre-event reconnaissance runs through the entire rally route on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“We had a two-day test in the new car in December and one more day this week to confirm settings. We still have a lot of work to do with suspension so this will be the focus.”
Paddon’s Hyundai Motorsport team-mates Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo debuted the New Generation Hyundai i20 WRC in Monte-Carlo and delighted the team with their respective third and sixth places on the iconic rally.
“The new car is still in its early stages,” Paddon says. “The car is certainly a step forward, however we are starting from scratch with setups and information on the car. Last year Dani, Thierry and I all worked close together with the team on the car’s development – more information and feedback equals faster development. But the base car is now done, so we are working with our engineers to personalise our own setups for our different driving styles for the events ahead.
“While we want to come out of the blocks running, we also need to be smart and learn as much about the car as possible over the next few events so we can fight at the front in the future.”
Based in Karlstad, to the west of Stockholm, the rally gets underway with an opening ceremony and super special stage at the Karlstad trotting track on Thursday evening. Friday’s opening leg takes competitors north-west into Norway with a tyre-change opportunity in Kirkenær – neither Friday’s or Saturday’s itinerary includes a mid-leg service, something Paddon says is not a major issue. “Sweden generally not too hard on the car, and the rally has always been a bit of a sprint event. It has to be flat out from the start.”
Saturday’s route comprises classic stages in the frozen forests around Hagfors north of Karlstad and include the famous Colin’s Crest in Vargåsen. Sunday’s final four stages are in the same area before the Karlstad finish. The rally route comprises 332.13 competitive kilometres, approximately 25 per cent of which is new, as well as a whopping 1,592.74 km of touring stages.