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Hayden Paddon and John Kennard are targeting a podium finish for their first European Rally Championship event on the narrow, twisty tarmac roads of Belgium’s Rally Ypres this weekend, but New Zealand’s international rallying duo know they’ve got a challenge on their hands.
Paddon anticipates the 28 to 29 June running of Geko Ypres Rally will be one of the more testing he’s contested.
“It certainly will be difficult here so we have to set realistic goals. We’re targeting a podium finish, which won’t be easy as Rally Ypres is a very specialised event and we’re up against four factory cars and a number of other very fast drivers,” says Paddon who arrived in Germany last week from his hometown of Geraldine in New Zealand’s South Island.
On Sunday Paddon tested the Ford Fiesta Super 2000-spec car he’s using for the event which is run by Belgium-based Symtech Racing, the team with which Paddon and Kennard won the 2011 FIA Production World Rally Championship.
“We had a good day testing on Sunday. It was great to be back in a S2000 car although it did take half the day to adapt back to the more aggressive driving style needed for the S2000 cars. Overall, we completed about 100 km of testing and were able to make some good setup changes to adapt the Fiesta to my driving style. It was also great to be working with familiar people and everything worked well with the team.”
Despite the constructive test day, Paddon says it’s hard to judge what his speed in competition is likely to be. “It’s been eight or nine months since I last drove in a tarmac event or drove a S2000 car.”
Based in the north-west Belgium town of Ypres, the hugely-popular two-day rally uses the town square as the service park and takes its 103 ERC-registered competitors on a 660 km journey through twisty tarmac farming lanes described as challenging to both cars and crews. Mostly, the 18 special stages – competitive distance around 300 km – are no more than 30 km from Ypres with two across the nearby French border.
The rally timetable takes advantage of the long daylight hours. Following reconnaissance on Wednesday and Thursday, Paddon participates in the free practice and qualifying runs from 7 pm. Rally Ypres is the first ERC event to introduce the WRC-style qualifying from which Paddon will select his road position for Friday’s 5 pm rally start.
“Although each day of the rally does not finish until 10 or 11 pm, it is still light,” Paddon notes.
The most important aspect of pre-event preparation is reconnaissance. Paddon’s long-time co-driver Blenheim-based Kennard has done the event just once before, in 1994, with a Japanese driver contesting the ERC Production Cup in the very first Group N Mitsubishi Lancer EVO.
“I remember Ypres as a very specialised event because of the cuts, which need very good notes, and the changing conditions from one run to the next over stages, which become quite dirty,” Kennard says. “The only difference in making notes for a new event versus one we’ve done is how much I have to write down during recce, as Hayden is very good at writing from scratch. There’s a bit more work to get them linked properly on the page, so they all come at the right time. It'll certainly be a challenge for us, but we'll just do our utmost, as usual and see how good that is!”
Paddon adds: “The roads will certainly be very challenging as a huge part of this rally is knowing where you can and can’t cut the corners – and there are more corners that you can cut than can’t. Of course the locals know this very well so recce will be very important for both John and me to try and spot these.
“The weather also tends to be quite changeable which adds to the challenges and will mean a lot of mud on the road if wet, so we are hoping for not too much rain.”
Friday’s schedule starts at 5 pm and comprises six special stages with the final one starting just after 9 pm. Saturday’s action gets underway around 10.30 am with 14 special stages and the prize-giving scheduled for after 11 pm.
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