Kiwi rally star Hayden Paddon and co-driver Seb Marshall ended their 2017 FIA World Rally Championship season on a positive note, in the right place at the right time to finish third overall at Rally Australia.
The Hyundai pairing stated their goal for this rally was to relax, enjoy the stages and let the results come. They didn’t take an easy route to what is Paddon’s best result in the Australian WRC round (his previous best result was fourth in 2016).
In Friday’s dusty forestry stages, Paddon struggled with engine power issues early on to go into the lunchtime service holding seventh overall. A strong fourth-fastest run on Friday afternoon’s SS5 elevated the Kiwi-Brit pair to fifth, but tyre wear was among the reasons which saw them drop back to seventh by day’s end.
Saturday bought mixed weather conditions and a performance from Paddon and Marshall that was more representative of their abilities, as they moved up the leader-board to fifth overall following seven stages and 120 competitive kilometres (SS14 was cancelled due to a damaged bridge).
Paddon said: “The Australian weather has thrown us a real curveball this year. Some stages were like two totally different rallies with some parts wet and others completely dry. It made for a complicated tyre choice with neither [soft or hard] compound perfectly suiting the conditions. Nambucca was a case in point; the first 10 or 15km was wet and muddy but then 100% dry; it caught us out a little bit. We have been trying a few different things today to try and improve our feeling in the car. We found some improvement on the diff mapping for the afternoon, which helped give more confidence and made the driving more natural. We need to continue in this direction tomorrow and secure our top-five position.”
Heavy rain overnight meant Sunday’s stages featured mud and standing water, plus unpredictable showers added to the day’s challenges, creating trickier than expected conditions. Despite these challenges, Paddon and Marshall enjoyed their strongest day of the weekend, securing a stage win on SS18 in relatively good conditions while heavy rain affected most other competitors. With the demise of fourth-placed Craig Breen who rolled on that stage, the pair were on course to take fourth place overall. Then, the last minute drama of Jari-Matti Latvala crashing out of second place on the very last stage of the rally, the power stage, elevated Paddon and Marshall to third.
Paddon said: “It has been a difficult season for me. At least we have been able to bring the year to an end with a more representative result. We never want to score a podium through someone else’s misfortune, and it’s a shame for Jari-Matti, but it’s a nice result for us after a tough year.
“There is some light at the end of the tunnel in terms of finding our feeling with the car. We have found some answers this weekend, which has been the main objective. We were quite lucky with the weather this morning, as we seemed to avoid the worst of the rain in Bucca and could take a stage win.
“Overall, the car felt better after we made another big change with the diff mapping overnight. We’ve just been gathering information for the future and were set on bringing the car home safely in third and our second podium of the season.”
Paddon’s team, Hyundai Motorsport, concluded its fourth WRC season with the fourth victory of the year as Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul took a well-deserved win. The Belgium pair took 13 stage wins and with Paddon adding the 14th, it was one of the team’s most competitive rallies of the season – and its first-ever win in Australia. In the third Hyundai, Andreas Mikkelsen and co-driver Anders Jæger finished their third rally with the team in 13th overall, having continued under Rally 2 regulations after their retirement from the lead on Saturday morning.
Paddon finishes the 2017 season eighth on the WRC drivers’ championship table, compared to his best season result to date of fourth in 2016.
Paddon and Hayden Paddon RallySport Global (HPRG) Ltd appreciate the support of their exclusive partners, Hyundai New Zealand, Pak’nSave and Z Energy, and associate sponsors Scott Sports and All About Signs Timaru.