Top Kiwi rally pairing Hayden Paddon and John Kennard head to the next round of the World Rally Championship in Portugal for the second event in their Pirelli Star Driver programme.
Paddon, from Geraldine, and Kennard, from Blenheim, are keen to secure a finish in the Pirelli-backed Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X after having to rejoin under SupeRally regulations in their first event with the global driver development programme in Turkey in April.
"The pressure is off to a certain extent. Rally Portugal (28 to 30 May) is the last of our international events this season that doesn't count for points in the Production World Rally Championship. This means the pressure to be thinking about championship points isn't there, allowing us to focus on getting more quality seat-time in the EVO X," says Paddon who has a two-pronged international campaign in 2010 with his Pirelli Star Driver scholarship scheme overlaying his bid for a podium finish in the PWRC.
After taking maximum points towards their PWRC campaign in New Zealand, Hayden and John are confident of a strong showing but have shifted focus from performance to more learning and consistency on what is another whole new event for the Kiwi duo.
"Being another new event which combined with this being a non-PWRC points scoring event, means we have a slightly different frame of mind to New Zealand where the goal was to win. The next step in my career is to start winning in Europe to show that we are not just fast in the Southern Hemisphere, but before we can do that we need a little more time and experience in Europe" said Hayden who is targeting the second half of the year for results.
"The focus for Portugal is simply to finish. Turkey was hugely disappointing for the whole team so our aim is to get to the end in one piece," says Paddon. "We'd like to set some good stage times, but the priority is finishing."
Paddon’s preparation for Portugal included reviewing as much footage from previous Portuguese rallies as possible.
"The idea is to learn as much as possible about the character, the nature of the roads and, from what I can see, they are quite enjoyable roads. They look to have a hard-packed sandy surface, but there are some tricky sections. In saying that their looks to be some fast sections which will suit me perfectly but like any gravel rally using and staying on the clean line will be crucial."
Paddon says he's as well prepared as he can be. "Fitness continues to be a major emphasis this year. We're not expecting Portugal to be too hot - temperatures around early 20 degrees Celsius, so not bad in the car. But we have a detailed assessment with the training company, ESP, on this event. On Monday before the rally starts, we have a full day of tests and assessment, then throughout the event, our trainers are studying our performance and body functions like core temperature, heart rates and reaction times. The idea is to help us learn to monitor and manage these aspects ourselves for optimum performance."
Paddon's trip also includes a few days in the United Kingdom before heading to Portugal. "We're heading over a couple of days earlier than needed so we can start talking to people about plans for 2011. We're certainly looking at our options for international competition next season and are keen to see what opportunities may be in front of us."
Paddon then flies into Portugal's second-largest city Oporto, where the Pirelli Star Drivers join the WRC stars on Saturday 22 May to contest a short promotional super special stage, being broadcast live on television. The drivers and their cars then head 500 km south to the southern coastal city of Faro and the event's home-base, the Algarve Stadium, before doing the all-important reconnaissance of the rally's 18 special stages on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"John and I write all our own pace notes from scratch, so when it's your first time on a rally like Portugal, it's vital to do the right job during recce. Then we have Thursday's official shakedown – the first time we get a high speed run in our EVO X's - followed by Thursday night's opening ceremony and first run around the super special stage inside the Algarve Stadium. Friday, Saturday and Sunday take us through 355 kilometres of special stages to the finish."
After Portugal, Paddon returns to New Zealand to prepare his Team Green EVO IX for July's International Rally of Whangarei, an event he's won twice before, before heading to Finland where he'll be driving the Pirelli Star Driver EVO X in an event which also counts for PWRC points for the first time.
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