No flag for Kiwi’s best yet podium finish

No flag for Kiwi’s best yet podium finish

Marking his first anniversary with Hyundai Motorsport with backing from the New Zealand dealer network, rally driver Hayden Paddon secured a career-best second place at this weekend’s Rally Italy Sardinia.

Paddon and the HPRG team are supported by exclusive partners Hyundai New Zealand, PlaceMakers and Pak n’ Save, along with associate support from Z Energy, Scott Sports, New Balance New Zealand and All About Signs Timaru.

The Kiwi teams result surprised rally organisers who weren’t expecting to need a New Zealand flag for the podium presentation. A quick ask-around the assembled fans saw a New Zealand supporter lend their flag to ensure the Kiwis were properly represented.

Paddon and co-driver John Kennard creating a double podium finish with Hyundai Motorsport team-mates Belgian’s Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul for the World Rally Championship’s newest manufacturer.

The Kiwi team led the rally from the start of Friday’s action – the first New Zealanders to lead an overseas WRC event – and only relinquished that lead on Saturday afternoon’s loop after leading the rally outright for 15 stages.

They finished safely despite some niggles with their Hyundai i20 WRC car.

Paddon described his first-ever WRC podium finish – the best result by a New Zealander in an overseas WRC rally – as a dream result.

“To finish on the podium is an absolutely amazing feeling. Words can’t really do justice to how I’m feeling right now,” says Paddon.

“We had a strong weekend from the start but we just tried to take each stage as it came without looking too much at the time-sheets. We knew it would get tougher once we lost the start position advantage so the fact we could hold our own against the World Champion was just fantastic.”

Double world rally champion Sebastien Ogier, who took the overall victory at Rally Italy Sardinia told the podium audience that he felt Paddon and Kennard did a great job.

“It was kind of a surprise for them to be fighting for so long at the front, but not completely a surprise for me. I knew he had good potential when I saw him competing and I drove against him in 2012 when we were both in a Skoda,” says Ogier.

“I remember some good times from him. I take the chance to say really well done for him.”

This weekend Paddon’s Hyundai i20 WRC car was fitted with the paddle-shift gearbox system for the first time.

“Surprisingly, that’s [the paddle-shift] made a very big difference, but we didn’t have much testing before the event,” says Paddon. “The first time I used the paddle was at shakedown and a couple of times in the super special on Thursday night I went for the lever. The paddle helps to use the engine a bit more.

“In a lot of corners with the paddles, I’m using the gears more and really feeling the torque – that’s where the improvement is coming.

“But you know, I never thought, to be honest, about the result, it was just one stage at a time. We wanted to go out and do our own thing.”

For Paddon’s co-driver John Kennard, this was the second time he’d stepped onto a WRC podium, the previous occasion being 27 years ago when he co-drove for the late Malcolm Stewart in an Audi Quattro coupe to secure third place in the 1988 running of Rally New Zealand, a round of the WRC drivers’ championship that year.

“As Hayden has said, a few years ago we went back to the mentality of doing our own thing,” says Kennard.

“We do the best we can do, and if that’s right or wrong, we can do something about it. We did our thing and it happened to turn out quite well.”

The next event for Paddon and Kennard is Rally Poland running from 2 to 5 July.

After this Paddon returns briefly to New Zealand to make a special guest appearance for Winger Hyundai at New Zealand’s largest automotive and motorsport show, the CRC Speedshow, at the ASB Showgrounds on 18 and 19 July.

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