Paddon recovers to finish 20th overall at WRC Rally Portugal

After falling to 53rd place on Day 1, Hayden Paddon recovers to finish 20th overall and first of the Pirelli Star Drivers. Read his event report.

We have completed the final day of Rally Portugal and what has again been a very up and down event for us. Today consisted of two 20km stages, each completed twice, plus the Algarve Stadium Super Special stage to conclude the rally.

After our Day 1 problems had dropped us to 53rd, we were able to recover to finish the rally in 20th overall, 3rd Group N and first Pirelli Star Driver, which is small consolation for what could have been so much better.

This morning’s loop of stages was rougher than we thought they would be and they were also very tricky in places. The first stage was very narrow, with some fast bits, which, when combined with the wheel tracks dug out by the earlier cars, made car position crucial. On the second stage I was struggling with my rhythm, but then hit a hole half way through which damaged the suspension, so we eased of for the second half of the stage to protect the car and get to service. Unfortunately this same stage was the undoing of our team mate Ott Tanak, who was leading Group N and setting some very fast times. He ran wide, hitting a bank and breaking the suspension, which brought an end to his rally.

At the midday service we made a small set-up change to our car to help it to turn into corners more easily, as I had been struggling a little with this throughout the rally. In saying that, the new diff map that the team installed before the event helped a lot, so it was more a matter of fine tuning for the conditions here in Portugal. The changes felt good, so the car was nicer to drive for the final two stages and I was able to gain further confidence in it.

Having someone like Ott in our team is great for us, as it gives us a new bench mark to aim toward. We are currently about 0.5 per km from his times, but I know we can be much faster, especially as we had no experience of this very technical event, while Ott did it last year. Never-the-less, having someone of his calibre and speed is similar to chasing Richard Mason at home for the past two seasons, as it makes you pick up your game to try to match them and beat them. It’s now a matter of doing some homework and getting all the little things in place to build on this experience.

Today was also the warmest day of the rally, with outside temperatures reaching 30 degrees and temperatures in the cockpit hitting 40+ degrees, which when clothed in 3 layers of protective clothing, with no real airflow, is very hot! Our pace notes also worked better today, but it is something major that we can take away from this event in terms of writing a different style of notes for different events depending on the character of the roads.

A huge thanks to the Ralliart Italy team and Pirelli for giving us a car that ran without any dramas all weekend, despite the very rough conditions we encountered. The gearbox problem that we had appears to have been caused from the hard time it got on the tarmac jumps during the Oporto Roadshow last Sunday, rather than this event and the tie rod problem just one of those things that happens when driving a production car in such rough conditions.

We leave Portugal for home tomorrow afternoon, arriving in New Zealand midday Wednesday. We then have 3 weeks to prepare our own car for Rally Whangarei, followed by just two weeks to prepare and pack it in the container for Japan. At the same time as it is shipped John and I will fly back to Europe for Rally Finland. I have a lot of homework to do in the meantime, studying my driving style and where we are losing some time. We are now aiming to compete on Ott’s level and I am confident we can do that, though it will be doubly difficult in Finland, as it is a very specialist event and again one he has done before.

Finally a huge thanks to John, as it certainly was not an easy week for pace notes, but he did an amazing job altering our rhythm and system on the go. Again, thanks to the whole Ralliart Italy team, including our engineer Mike and technicians Loris, Carlos and Walter. It was also great to see my Nana out on the stages today too, enthusiastic as ever, waving the New Zealand flag. Finally, thanks too to the guys at ESP, for their help and guidance over the weekend.

I will have our video diary from the event posted in the next day or two. Also, please see this link for some photos from the event and keep an eye out during the week, as I will add more as they become available.

Source: Team Release