PADDON EYES 2017 TI­TLE PUSH

New Zealan­der takes break­through WRC vic­tory and now wants more

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By David Evans

Hay­den Paddon has tar­geted a 2017 ti­tle push af­ter scor­ing his first over­all world cham­pi­onship vic­tory on last week­end’s Rally Ar­gentina.

Af­ter head­ing off Se­bastien Ogier for the rally win – beat­ing the French­man by 11.2s on the fi­nal stage and 14.3s over­all – the Kiwi be­lieves talk of a 2016 ti­tle push is pre­ma­ture. The win moves him into sec­ond in the cham­pi­onship, but still 39 points be­hind tre­ble cham­pion Ogier in the stand­ings.

“I think it’s a bit early to start talk­ing about the cham­pi­onship,” he said. “The plan was al­ways to win ral­lies this year and look for the ti­tle next sea­son. I’m re­al­is­tic enough to know that, right now, we prob­a­bly don’t have the ul­ti­mate speed for Seb. OK, I would prob­a­bly back my­self on some of the fast ral­lies, but I can’t just rely on fast ral­lies or gravel ral­lies. Tar­mac’s a big thing for me, it’s an area I want to work on and I need to work on.”

It’s not just Paddon and co-driver John Ken­nard who are get­ting quicker ei­ther, the i20 WRC is evolv­ing all the time, with sus­pen­sion im­prove­ments com­ing in time for Por­tu­gal and pos­si­bly a mid-sea­son en­gine up­grade.

“We need to keep the rear of the car in-line a bit more,” said Paddon. “That’s a key area and some­thing we have strug­gled with since we’ve had the new car. If we can get on top of that then we’ll find a lot more speed and I know I can drive it a lot faster as well.”

Hyundai team prin­ci­pal Michel Nan­dan con­firmed the Ger­man­based team is work­ing hard to im­prove the new car. “We are work­ing on the sus­pen­sion and dif­fer­en­tial,” he ex­plained. “Al­ready since Mex­ico, we made a good step here on sus­pen­sion and dampers. We have some other things in test­ing next week and the fol­low­ing week – I think we are go­ing in the right di­rec­tion. I think we can get more per­for­mance.

“As well as that, we are work­ing on the en­gine and maybe there are some changes to come. We are work­ing on the test bed at the mo­ment and if it’s valu­able then we will do it.”

Nan­dan paid trib­ute to Paddon in land­ing the team’s first ‘proper’ win. Hyundai’s pre­vi­ous vic­tory came from Thierry Neuville af­ter Volkswagen’s Ogier and Jar­iMatti Lat­vala and Citroen’s Kris Meeke all crashed out of the 2014 Rally Ger­many.

“This is a proper vic­tory, we showed the car is im­proved, and now the times are re­ally close to

the Volkswagen,” said Nan­dan. “This shows we are closer and now we are able to fight. It’s good for the team and it’s good for the car. This is only the fourth rally for the new car and now we win. This could be a good push for us for the fu­ture.

“It’s also a good push for Hay­den and John. When we saw the time from Se­bastien in Mina Clavero, we thought it could be tough, but we never stopped be­liev­ing that they could do it. But, hon­estly, I don’t think any­body thought they could do it in this way. It was in­cred­i­ble. Fan­tas­tic. It’s very good for Hay­den as well. He’s such a pro­fes­sional guy, work­ing so hard all the time and try­ing to im­prove in ev­ery­thing he does. This is good for him. Af­ter all of that work, he can look at him­self and say: ‘I can do it’. And he can.”

Ken­nard’s first win comes af­ter more than three decades in the sport. He said: “We re­ally didn’t have much ex­pec­ta­tion from this rally at all – maybe that’s the key! Hay­den works so hard in this sport, he re­ally de­serves it.”

Paddon ad­mit­ted his pro­gres­sion to the top of the WRC has taken longer than is cur­rently fash­ion­able – but that do­ing it his own way has made it sat­is­fy­ing.

“I started slowly,” he said, “build­ing up and com­pet­ing at home [New Zealand]. Then win­ning the Pirelli Star Driver in 2009 gave us six WRC rounds in 2010 and that was def­i­nitely a big turn­ing point.

“These days, young guys come in, jump straight in the big cars and want to win im­me­di­ately, but they end up crash­ing and then maybe run­ning out of money. We took our time and when it got tough, we found 70-odd peo­ple to in­vest in us and back me.

“But, through all of the tough times, I never lost sight of get­ting to this point and win­ning this first rally. It’s an amaz­ing feel­ing.”

Paddon cred­ited two of his he­roes with help­ing him along to his ground­break­ing achieve­ment. Pos­sum Bourne, who blazed a trail for Kiwi rally driv­ers, and 1995 World Rally cham­pion Colin Mcrae are both he­roes for Paddon.

“Pos­sum was a role model for me,” added Paddon. “He showed that you could come from New Zealand and go over­seas and be very suc­cess­ful. Colin was the in­spi­ra­tion for me to want to be world cham­pion.

“I wasn’t lucky enough to know Colin per­son­ally, but I know the fam­ily a lit­tle bit now. For me, it was that blue Group A car [Subaru Im­preza 555] that both Colin and Pos­sum were as­so­ci­ated with. I loved that car. I never for­get the day I met Colin at Rally New Zealand, I was 12 years old and I got his au­to­graph. I’d been stand­ing on the road sec­tion on Fri­day morn­ing with this big sign I made: ‘Go Colin!’ He was my hero and I’ve watched that video of him win­ning the ti­tle in 1995 over and over. To be a rally win­ner like Colin was, is very spe­cial.”

The WRC heads to Por­tu­gal next, where Paddon has only com­peted once in a world rally car. Ogier has won the four times, while Jari-matti Lat­vala won in 2015.

Paddon’s pace sur­prised even the Hyundai team

Paddon was PWRC champ

Kiwi scored a big Rally Ar­gentina vic­tory

Colin Mcrae’s 555 Subaru Im­preza in­spired Paddon

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