This week’s World Rally Championship event on the Italian island of Sardinia marks 12 months since New Zealanders Hayden Paddon and John Kennard contested their first event with the Hyundai Motorsport team.
Aiming for consistent times in the top six of the 14-strong WRC field contesting Rally Italia Sardegna, Paddon and Kennard will mark their anniversary with the Alzenau, Germany-based team with new updates to their #20 Hyundai i20 WRC – it now features the new paddle shift system, already in use by their team-mates Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo.
“I’m excited to have the paddle shift for this event,” says Paddon as he prepares for three days of reconnaissance for the 24 special stage, 402.88 competitive kilometre rally. I have only done about 60 km of testing with the paddle shift earlier in the year, but how hard can it be; just touch the paddle with your finger.”
Paddon says: “We need to be smart and pick up where we left off in Portugal and try and consistently set times in the top six or seven. We are expecting a much higher attrition rate here compared to Portugal, so if we can have a clean event then I think we can target a good result.”
The 2014 edition of this event was the first time Paddon and Kennard had contested the traditionally challenging Sardinian rally as well as being their first event for Hyundai.
“You can’t even compare where I am now as a driver, or where the team or the cars are now to 12 months ago – everything has progressed so far. When I look back at last year’s times and on-board footage, well… this year should be a good yard stick to measure how far we have progressed in 12 months.”
With around two-thirds of the rally route different to last year, Paddon says their previous experience of the stages does help. “We have a good idea of what to expect from the conditions. It works in our favour that a large part of the event is new which provides more of a level playing field with our fellow WRC competitors. Last year being our first event with Hyundai, we were chucked in the deep end a little, hence our performance on this event last year was nothing spectacular.”
With very warm days of mid-30 degree temperatures expected on the long loops of special stages on dry, dusty roads, Paddon says the tyre strategy is quite straightforward. “Hard tyres are the order of the day.”
Team Principal Michel Nandan comments: “We have made a lot of preparation for this event and our team is coming in with a lot of motivation from Portugal, where both Dani and Hayden completed the rally in the top eight. We learned a lot last year in Sardinia and claimed our first stage 1-2 so we hope to show that we have improved in that time.
“Hayden has set a lot of fast times throughout this season and is looking to continue to build his speed and consistency a year on from his first event with us. The Sardinia event is exciting with lots of history – conditions will be hot and dry and the challenging roads will make sure that we all stay focused.”
The action at the 11 to 14 June running of Rally Italia Sardegna commences with the street stage in the southern city of Cagliari on Thursday night, then moves to Oristano for Friday’s stages, some of which have not been driven since 2011 while others will be entirely new. A marathon Saturday sees drivers complete over 200 km of stages.
Highlights include the stomach-churning Micky’s Jump in Monte Lerno and the new Ozieri-Ardara stage. Sunday’s stages, run north of Alghero on the west coast where the service park will be hosted for a second year, include the new Monte Baranta test and the Cala Flumini coastal run, which will provide the weekend’s power stage.