Paddon fired up for French challenge
Sun, 30 Sep 2012 4:42p.m.
Kiwi star rally driver Hayden Paddon has successfully completed his first test run on tarmac roads with his Skoda Fabia S2000 car and is looking forward to tackling the all-tarmac Rallye de France next weekend for a refreshed attack on the FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship title.
“Being our first tarmac rally of the year, it’s a good chance to start fresh again,” says Paddon who has been disappointed by recent results in Finland and Great Britain as he strives to win his second world rally championship in two years.
The French event runs 4 to 7 October and is the penultimate round of the 2012 for Paddon and co-driver John Kennard, from Geraldine and Blenheim respectively.
“I would be lying if I said that the results this year hadn’t taken a bit of a toll mentally, but it is a matter of putting them behind us and focusing on a new challenge. We have been working very closely with BRR who have been working with Skoda to solve the problems and I am confident that we should have a reliable package in France,” he says.
Last week Paddon had a day’s testing with his Austrian team, Baumschlager Rallye & Racing (BRR), on a selection of Austrian roads.
“We did 50 km of testing, which was more about to getting used to the car on asphalt as we’ve had only snow and gravel events so far this season.
“The Skoda felt amazing on tarmac, almost like a go-kart. I was able to get to grips with it very quickly in tricky wet conditions, and the team management were really happy with our speed.
We were also working a little with Herman Gassner Junior, who is also running a BRR Skoda in France, so it’s good to bounce ideas off another driver. I did learn that I can be more aggressive with the car and particularly try and stay in the higher revs more,” he says.
Paddon says the team’s preparation of his car for France has all gone to plan.
“The previous two events have been more a case of a couple of really unfortunate failures; in all other respects the car is really good,” he says.
This is only the second time Paddon and Kennard have contested the French event which is run in the Alsace region – home to eight-time world rally champion Sébastien Loeb – in the east of the country.
Paddon drove a Group N production-spec Mitsubishi as a Pirelli Star Driver on his last French outing and also visited the event last year to assist American star Ken Block with pace notes for the gravel stages included at the time.
“When we competed there in 2010, it was wet and with all the WRC cars cutting corners, there was so much mud on the road, it was horrible for us competing further down the running order. I’m hoping for a dry rally, as the roads are generally quite fast,” he says.
Weather will no doubt play its part in the event which is based in the city of Strasbourg right on the border with Germany.
“At this time of year it’s quite mixed which can be more significant on tarmac events than gravel. We have two tyre options, soft and hard, but if you get caught in the wet with hard tires, you will be in a difficult situation. To prepare ourselves for unsettled weather, we tried some different tyre combinations in testing,” Paddon says.
The asphalt stages include demanding sections through the Vosges mountains where rain can make conditions extremely slippery.
Massive crowds are expected throughout the event which consists of 22 stages over a competitive distance of 404.14 km, an increase of 20 per cent compared to 2011.
Forty-four per cent of the timed distance is new this year, which places due emphasis on Paddon and Kennard’s skills at writing pace notes.
There’s no doubt that Paddon is competing to win the six-strong SWRC category in France.
Currently second equal on the championship points-table, sharing a total of 68 points with Irishman Craig Breen, Paddon believes the deficit of eight points to category leader Per-Gunnar Andersson can be overcome.
There are 25 points for the category winner at each of the final two SWRC events, this one and the final in Spain in November.
Paddon rates his competition highly.
“Craig and P-G will be quick everywhere and they both have a lot more experience on tarmac than us. I have only done three tarmac rallies before, with the last almost 12 months ago.
“In saying that I think we have a good package and that we can take the fight to them. I think Craig in particular will be fast, as he has done a lot of tarmac driving in his homeland and will be on a high after his win in GB. I’m sure we will be up to the task though – that’s why we compete, to win,” he says.
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