Top Kiwi rally driver Hayden Paddon fought back from mechanical woes to finish third in class in his final international event for 2010 and confirm third place overall in his first attempt at the FIA Production World Rally Championship.
Paddon’s championship podium position is the best result a New Zealander has ever achieved in a world rally championship series. The attention-grabbing result highlights the exceptionally consistent, strong performances the 23-year-old from Geraldine has delivered throughout his first full season of international level rallying.
Paddon and Blenheim-based co-driver John Kennard tackled the World Rally Championship finale, Wales Rally Great Britain, in their final outing as Pirelli Star Drivers. With third place in the championship secure, Paddon’s goal was to go all out for a PWRC class win in the notoriously challenging Welsh event.
The two-time New Zealand rally champion had issues with his Pirelli-backed Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X in the rally’s opening two stages, but managed to set reasonable times. With small set-up changes, Paddon said the car’s handling and pace improved on stage four.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get a further chance to press on as halfway through that stage we hit a big rock, which smashed a trailing arm on the rear suspension. The midday remote service rules say you can use only the parts carried in the car and we couldn’t fix it without a complete hub assembly, so we strapped it up with two tie straps and drove on through the day’s final three stages. With the wheel literally holding on by a thread, we managed to lose only four minutes to fellow Pirelli Star Driver Ott Tanak, who took the PWRC lead at the end of day one, which wasn’t too bad.”
From his overnight position of seventh, Paddon struggled with handing issues on the repaired car on day two, but kept tweaking and pushing throughout the day to take his only stage win on the day’s final stage, and improve his PWRC position to fourth.
Overnight rain made the third day’s stages very wet and as cars passed, the roads became increasingly muddy.
“It was a matter of setting a steady pace to get to the finish,” says Paddon. “When fellow competitor Martin Semerad crashed out in the morning we were elevated to third which, after lying seventh at the end of day one, we wouldn’t have thought possible. The result was a small consolation after another ‘what could have been’ event, but nevertheless the learning experience has been massive and will put us in good stead for future WRC events.”
Pirelli Star Driver supervisor Phil Short commented: “It was a great shame for Hayden, he was running very well in the morning before his suspension problem, but, once again, he has shown very good pace on this rally setting times in the top three of PWRC on days two and three.”
Mario Isola, Pirelli motorsport manager, said: “It’s been another very successful season for the Pirelli Star Drivers and having Ott and Hayden on the podium here [in Wales] is great news and a great endorsement of the programme. This is typically a very tough rally to come and compete on for the first time and none of the drivers had ever seen these stages in competition before. Ott and Hayden have shown themselves to be the pace-setters, confirming what we saw for the rest of the year.”
Paddon’s third place in the overall PWRC standings means he achieved his pre-season goal of a podium finish in his debut WRC season.
“Our Pirelli Star Driver programme is now finished – it’s been quite an experience this year and the amount I have learnt has been second to none. In general I am happy with the season, but I know that there is still a lot left in the tank and to know that we are already competitive is very encouraging.”
Paddon thanks the whole Ralliart Italy team which prepared his Pirelli Star Driver Mitsubishi. “I also thank Pirelli for making this opportunity possible for me! And huge thanks to John, who has done an excellent job all year and has put in a lot of hard work and huge thanks to the many, many New Zealanders who have showed their support. It has been an honour to fly the New Zealand flag in the WRC.”
Paddon continues to work on his plans for the 2011 season, seeking to establish his own WRC programme.
“We’ll be back in New Zealand shortly and, around meetings for our 2011 plans, I’m scheduled to participate in some promotional events in Auckland and Christchurch to publicise the new WRC game. I hope to announce firm plans for 2011 in the coming weeks.”
2010 FIA Production World Rally Championship for Drivers (full season)
1, Armindo Araújo (PRT) Mitsubishi, 126 pts
2, Patrik Flodin (SWE) Subaru, 100 pts
3, Hayden Paddon (NZL) Mitsubishi, 97 pts
4, Ott Tanak (EST) Mitsubishi, 78 pts
5, Toshi Arai (JPN) Subaru, 55 pts
Source: Team Release