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New Zealand’s top rally driver Hayden Paddon commences his third full World Rally Championship season with long-time co-driver John Kennard and Hyundai Motorsport at this weekend’s famed Monte Carlo rally.
 
Like his Hyundai team-mates Belgium Thierry Neuville and Spaniard Dani Sordo, the New Zealander pilots the team’s latest rally challenger, the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, which has been built to meet revised technical regulations introduced for this year’s competition. The 2017-specification cars look more aggressive than their predecessors. Changes have focussed on improving aerodynamic and mechanical grip, increasing engine power up to 380bhp, reducing car weight, as well as the re-introduction of the active centre differential.
 
With about six days testing in the 2017-spec car completed last year, a two-day test prior to the season-opening Monte Carlo rally delivered both dry and icy tarmac conditions which helped Paddon’s preparation for the event he’s contested only once before.
 
Paddon says it will be difficult to get the most out of the new cars on the unpredictable asphalt event in the mountains of southern France.
 
“With the changeable slippery conditions, it will be harder than ever to put the power to the ground. However, the active centre diff should help us a little,” Paddon says.
 
“Monte Carlo is the most challenging event of the year. The ice, snow and changing conditions make it hard to be comfortable. As we didn’t finish here in our first attempt last year [having retired on the Friday after sliding on an ice patch, clipping a tree with the rear of the car and causing extensive damage to the left rear wheel], so the only focus this year is to finish the rally.”
 
Paddon’s dedication to improving his own performance is never-ending. “We’ve focused on a lot of the weak areas from 2016. This year, John and I want to make the same step forward that we did last year. That’s now at a point where we have to be critical of every little detail. I think we have grown a lot over the past three years and I feel we are finally in a position where we have enough experience to allow us to be more competitive. So once we have Monte done with, it’s pedal to the metal for the remainder of the season.”
 
From the perspective of Blenheim-based Kennard, the new car also brings new challenges. “With the new car, the co-driver’s challenge is to work out where the increases in car speed will be, in order to speed up the notes accordingly,” says Kennard. “This is mainly out of medium to fast corners, where the active diff has most effect. We’ve also been working on simplifying some of the notes a little, to make them easier to read, and for Hayden to absorb, while still keeping the detail needed to go quickly.”
 
Hyundai Motorsport fields a three-car line-up in all rounds of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship, running under the unified Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team name. Hayden Paddon/John Kennard, Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul and Dani Sordo/Marc Martí will compete in cars 4, 5 and 6 respectively. The two highest-placed crews from each team will score points for the Manufacturers’ Championship in each event.
 
Key facts of the 85th Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo
Dates: 19-22 January
Stages: 17 (382.65 km)
Total distance: 1,411.79 km
WRC competitors: 12
Location: Monte Carlo and Gap in the French Alps
 
Rally notes
Essentially an asphalt rally but unpredictable mountain weather brings varied conditions.
Thursday evening rally start in Casino Square, followed by two stages (47.64km) in darkness in the Alps to overnight in Gap. Friday, 160km, two loops of three tests north of Gap. Saturday, 121.39km, five more stages near Gap. Sunday, 53.72km, in the Alpes Maritimes mountains above the Principality, features two passes over the legendary Col de Turin and no service.
More than 85 per cent of the route is new compared to 2016.
Sunday afternoon’s live TV Power Stage will offer bonus points to the five fastest drivers for the first time.

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