Writing the best pace notes they can during the reconnaissance runs for Rally Portugal will be at the heart of Hayden Paddon and John Kennard’s bid for a top five result at their fourth event in the 2015 FIA World Rally Championship.
Most of the route for the 21 to 25 May running of Rally Portugal is new for all WRC crews with a new base at Matosinhos, north of Porto, as the rally returns to the north of Portugal for the first time since 2001.
Paddon welcomes the opportunity for a more level playing field where prior experience on a particular rally’s special stages won’t count.
“It is a real level playing field being a new event for everyone and it’s at events such as this that we have to make the most of this kind of opportunity,” says Paddon as he joins the Hyundai Motorsport team in Matosinhos.
“John and I are always working hard on our pace note system and developing new ideas, so for Portugal this week we are focusing on having a really good recce and making good pace notes. If we can do that, then I believe we can chase a good result.”
As their experience in the Hyundai i20 WRC car continues to build, Paddon says he and Kennard have adapted their pace note system to include more speed information. “This coupled with that we are being more aggressive with the car now and believing in its capabilities more does translate to also having more aggressive pace notes.”
Following the specialised snow event in Sweden and the two long haul events in Mexico and Argentina, Paddon says the return to the upcoming European gravel rallies of Portugal, Sardinia, Poland and Finland marks a significant point in his second season with the Hyundai Mobis World Rally Team.
“The next step for us this year is to start fighting more regularly in the top five. That is a big ask at this level, but I’m backing John and me as being capable of doing this, and believe that Portugal will give us a good chance of this kind of result.”
Paddon says he’s expecting some fast and technical roads on the 15 special stage, 352 competitive kilometre route in northern Portugal. “But generally there are softer, sandier road surfaces that could cut up a lot.
“We saw during our recent test in Portugal, that if it rains, the road develops ice-like grip conditions. It’s horrendously slippery, worse than anything I have experienced before. Of course if it does rain, it’s the same for everyone and you just have to get on with it.”
In recent weeks, Paddon joined the team to test his #20 Hyundai i20 WRC car in Portugal and in Poland.
“Our recent tests and work behind the scenes with the team have been very good. I’m feeling really good with the car, but the last couple of events the pieces of the puzzle have just not come together for various reasons. We know if we can have a clean event, that we have the speed to be closer to the front.”
Paddon and Kennard are one of 15 WRC crews competing in Portugal where they will complete reconnaissance on Tuesday and Wednesday this week before Thursday afternoon’s ceremonial start and an evening super special stage at Lousada rallycross circuit. On Saturday – the longest leg of the rally with six stages and 165 competitive kilometres – they head east onto the higher altitude roads in the Serra do Marão mountains. Sunday’s leg has just three stages, with the focus on the double run through classic Fafe test sandwiched around one of the event’s longest stages, the 32.35km Vieira do Minho test.
Paddon and Kennard have competed in Portugal three times previously – 2010, 2011 and 2012 – when their 2011 class victory made history as the biggest-ever winning margin in the production car category, and in 2012, the pair secured their first-ever SWRC category victory.