Kiwi rally driver Hayden Paddon and his British co-driver Seb Marshall finished Wales Rally GB, the 11th round of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship, with a consistent and close-fought seventh place.
After three days and 317.74 kilometres of rallying through northern and mid-Wales, just 15 seconds separated Paddon’s Hyundai Motorsport team-mate Thierry Neuville in fifth place and Mads Ostberg in eighth. Paddon was only 2.5 seconds off his other Hyundai Motorsport team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen who finished sixth.
The Welsh WRC rally delivered its usual unpredictable autumn weather with rain and fog affecting some of Friday’s 110.76km of special stages, which had been much drier during the reconnaissance runs earlier in the week.
Paddon’s goal was to have a clean, consistent rally and he achieved this, while working through the challenges of picking the right combination of soft and medium compound Michelin tyres for the slippery, muddy stages.
While Friday’s 110.76 km started off a bit slowly and running ninth on the road, he improved to seventh overall by day’s end, saying:
“We have tried to have a clean day today. In the morning loop, I felt comfortable in the car, but we were lacking some grip and traction in the conditions. We had an off-stage excursion in the second stage that cost us some time. We kept focused on our plan with road order playing quite a key role in the afternoon loop. We will have a more beneficial starting position on Saturday and will look to make some gains during the day.”
Saturday bought more than 15 hours at the wheel and no service break at lunchtime, just a tyre change partway through the 150.24km of action. Third on the road, the start order decided by reversing the WRC classification after day one, Paddon and Marshall completed the longest day of Wales Rally GB in seventh on the leader-board, with only 45.4 seconds separating him from rally leader Sebastien Ogier. In fact, the top eight competitors – all WRC drivers – have overall times within one minute of Ogier, so intense is the competition after two days and 261 km of rallying.
In what Paddon described as an up and down but generally clean day, he and Marshall started Saturday’s 15 hours of driving and nine stages with a second fastest time through SS10. They also managed the third quickest time through SS17, the day’s penultimate test, but a wrong tyre choice in the morning for the muddy conditions, and a stall on the last stage hampered them a little.
Hayden Paddon took another strong result in Wales. Photo: McKlein
Of Saturday Paddon said: “We have had another clean day with no real problems. The car has felt good on most of the stages, although we were missing some traction at times. Overall, I have been happy with the balance and have felt comfortable and in control. It has been closely fought throughout the day so we have been searching for very small improvements. We will continue to find some gains on Sunday morning with five stages still to run and important points up for grabs.”
Sunday’s final five stages unusually included the power stage as the day’s second test where Paddon was sixth fastest by just 0.3 seconds, missing a bonus point for fifth quickest. Only the top 14 cars in the field of 59 entries were permitted to complete the final stage of Dayinsure Wales Rally GB which was delayed and then shortened, following an incident unrelated to the rally near to the finish of SS23 Great Orme Llandudno.
Paddon said: “Everything needed to be perfect to be further up the leader-board, given the intensity of competition. There are some positives to take away from this weekend even if the result doesn’t do us justice. We took some fastest splits and top-three stage times on Saturday, and generally found comfort in the car.
"This morning’s stages were incredibly slippery. We couldn’t read the grip and the pace notes weren’t optimal. The second loop was better. With only 15 seconds between fourth and eighth, it was a close fight. We will now prepare for our final WRC event of the season in Australia, determined to finish the season on a high.”
The result in Wales moves Paddon from 10th to ninth in WRC drivers’ championship standings.
The World Rally Championship heads to Spain next with Dani Sordo taking the wheel of the #6 car for his home event. Paddon wraps up his 2018 WRC competition at Rally Australia 15-18 November, having first returned home to compete in the final New Zealand Rally Championship round, the Raglan Rally of the Coast, on 13 October.
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