Kiwi rally driver Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard finished second in the Production World Rally Championship class at Rally Japan over the weekend.
The New Zealanders overcame two very testing days of competition to secure stage wins in seven of the third day’s eight stages and finish the three-day rally in 12th position overall, just one place behind their main rival in the production category, Patrik Flodin from Sweden.
“It has been a very hard weekend, but it is great to get a strong finish and good championship points at the end of it all,” said Paddon, from Geraldine, who was contesting Rally Japan for the first time.
“On the morning stages we struggled alot with the car’s set-up. I couldn’t make it do anything that I wanted it to, but then one of our main rivals, [former PWRC champion] Toshi Arai crashed, so we moved up to second in PWRC behind Patrik Flodin.”
Paddon’s team made numerous changes to the car during the service break, transforming the car and giving Paddon the chance to build speed and confidence.
“The repeated afternoon stages were so rough and unlike anything I have seen so far in my rallying. The surface is very soft and sandy, with wheel ruts deeper than the car’s doorsills, so we kept bottoming out. The rough conditions broke our front suspension on stage seven, so we nursed the car through the final stages to service without inflicting further damage.”
Starting the second day two minutes behind PWRC leader Patrik Flodin, Paddon knew it was a tall order to close in and put pressure on him. So the two-time New Zealand champion aimed to consolidate his second place while also learning more about Japan’s new surface, work on the car set-up and gain further confidence.
“The day started off well, winning the first stage which the roughest stage of the day. The following two had a much harder base, so they cut up less. On the longest stage of the rally, 34 km, things were going well and our splits were good. But 12 km from the end we began to lose the brakes and a further two km later we had absolutely no brakes, front or rear. With a large gap back to the third-placed competitor, we drove slowly to the end of the stage using the gearbox as brakes. This dropped us a further one and a half minutes behind Flodin.
“Between stages John and I made emergency repairs to give us the front brakes for the last ten km stage before service. Amazingly, we were still second quickest, just five seconds off Flodin’s fastest time.” They went on to win all three afternoon gravel stages.
Paddon’s goal for Sunday was primarily to get to the finish while working on his speed without taking risks. That goal was largely achieved as Paddon won seven of the day’s eight stages from Flodin.
“The day’s longest stage – only 17 km – was so twisty, slippery and rough?that it took almost 16 minutes to complete! It was good to have a clean day on the third day and make more progress with the car.”
Paddon acknowledged Flodin’s excellent drive. “Patrik never put a foot wrong, but without our suspension and brake failures on the first two days, things could have been a lot closer than our finishing margin of two minutes and 45 seconds behind him. Nevertheless, I’m happy with the result. John and I have achieved four podium finishes in our four PWRC rounds so far this season, so we are in a strong championship position going into the final two rounds.”
Paddon’s Team Green Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX took a battering on the Japanese road. “They are some of the roughest roads that I have ever driven. Our survival is due to a huge effort from our team, who did a fantastic job to keep us going. Thanks also to thank John, who again did a fantastic job. We seem to have sorted out the pace note issues we were having earlier in the year. Lastly, big thanks to both Rally New Zealand’s Rising Stars award and Cameron Sea and Airfreight for making this event possible for us, and ultimately giving us a shot at the PWRC championship.”
Paddon’s third place in the PWRC championship sees the 23-year-old Kiwi with a narrower points’ deficit to leader Flodin. “We’ll be on maximum attack to take top PWRC points in France at the beginning of October. This is another tarmac rally with the Pirelli Star Driver team. With one victory and three podiums from four starts, we are in a strong position. Now it’s a matter of lifting our game and pushing for victory – as with any championship, particularly a world championship, we have to give it a go!”
“I did a lot better as the event went on. The car improved a lot too. I need to pick up the pace though and try and win PWRC in France or Great Britain. I won’t be holding anything back – you can’t afford to with guys as fast as Flodin and [defending PWRC champion Armindo] Araújo around.”
Paddon still holds third position in the PWRC series, while the 25 points that Flodin earned for winning the production class in Japan have moved him ahead of Araújo on the leader-board. However Flodin has just one nominated PWRC event, Great Britain, left to run, while Paddon and Araújo are both contesting France and Great Britain. With the fourth-placed competitor over 30 points behind him, Paddon seems likely to finish the season third or better in his first attempt at the World Rally Championship feeder series.
Paddon has just eight days in New Zealand before heading back to Europe for Rally France.
The Paddon RallySport team acknowledges the support of Pirelli, Ralliart Italy, EDL Fasteners, Rallytours, Castrol, Contiki Tours, Paddon, MCA Suspension, Vicarage Lane Wines, Radio Hauraki, Radio Sport, Northend Ford, In-Tune Automotive, All About Signs, Total Automotive, Resene, FMG, Raiseys Nutrition, Endless, 1Group, FMG, Steelplus,?Andar the Front Store, Reaction Racing, Alpinestars, Pope Print, Cameron Air & Seafreight and Bluebridge Ferries.
Source: Team Release
2010 FIA Production World Rally Championship for Drivers (after Rally Japan)
1, Patrik Flodin (SWE) Subaru, 90 pts
2, Armindo Araújo (PRT) Mitsubishi, 83 pts
3, Hayden Paddon (NZL) Mitsubishi, 76 pts
4, Gianluca Linari (ITA) Subaru, 41 pts
5, Toshi Arai (JPN) Subaru, 38 pts