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New Zealanders Hayden Paddon and John Kennard enjoyed their first taste of a world rally car on Monday (Central European Time) when they drove their Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team-prepared Ford Fiesta RS WRC on a tarmac test road prior to this week’s Rally RACC/Rally de Espana.
The 24 to 27 October running of the Spanish World Rally Championship event marks the first time Paddon has competed in a full world rally car and the 26-year-old three-time New Zealand Rally Champion and 2011 FIA Production car World Rally Champion also becomes the first New Zealander to compete in a new generation WRC model.
Paddon reports: “As the first two days of the rally are on tarmac, our test was conducted on tarmac. It was amazing feeling to be behind the wheel of a WRC car and within the environment of a very professional team. Getting up to speed with the car did not take as long as I thought it may, as after the first few runs I was starting to feel comfortable with the speed difference and the handling. For the rest of the day we were able to target specific areas of the car to improve to suit my driving style and by the end of the day I had a car that I was very confident in.
“While the handling of the WRC car is similar to the S2000 cars that we are used to, the obvious main difference is the power. As the engine horsepower is not hugely different to the S2000 car, the outright speed down straights was not that different. However, the massive difference is in with the engine torque with the turbo. We are talking three times the amount of engine torque meaning the amount of corner speed you can carry is increased and the corner exit speed is hugely faster. In fact with the amount of torque and responsiveness of the engine, it is almost an easier car to drive. With the extra speed will come extra commitment to get the most out of the car which will come with more time in the seat.”
Paddon and Kennard, from Geraldine and Blenheim respectively, are now part way through two and a half days of reconnaissance of the event’s 15 special stages which cover 355.92 competitive kilometres.
“As the rally speeds will be higher, the smaller details in the pace notes we refine during recce will become more important,” Paddon adds.
Until the New Zealanders get into the heat of competition, they’re uncertain how they will compare against the 12 other WRC competitors which include Volkswagen star Sébastien Ogier, who has already wrapped up the 2013 WRC Drivers’ Championship, and his team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala, the Citroën duo of Mikko Hirvonen and Dani Sardo and Paddon’s own Qatari team-mates drivers Mads Østberg, Evgeny Novikov, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Thierry Neuville.
“To start with we just need to do our own thing, learn the car and build up towards the Saturday stages, which I know well,” says Paddon who has contested the Spanish event twice previously.
“However Sunday will be a real lottery for us as we have never driven the car on gravel, so it will be a matter of feeling our way into the gravel stages.
“All in all we are feeling really good, the car feels amazing and most importantly I am confident behind the wheel of the WRC car.”
The event starts in Barcelona on Friday evening before competitors tackle the first three special stages in the dark on their way back to rally headquarters in the coastal city of Salou. Six stages per day on Saturday and Sunday include some key challenges such as Saturday’s two runs of the monster 42.04 km El Priorat stage which combines very fast tarmac and twisty, narrow sections, and Sunday’s twice-run 35.68 km test, Terra Alta, which throws up five surface changes from tarmac to gravel and back. Rally de Espana wraps up in Salou around 4.30pm on Sunday. 


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