New Zealanders Hayden Paddon and John Kennard have won the production car category at Rally Portugal – a perfect outcome for their new Subaru-based international campaign. And to top it off the Kiwis delivered the largest winning margin – 7 minutes, 39.3 seconds – in the history of the feeder series to the World Rally Championship.
“We’re so happy,” said the 23-year-old who finished third in the Production Car World Rally Championship last season and, this season, aims to take out the P-WRC title with his newly-formed New Zealand World Rally Team.
Paddon had the advantage over the 17 other P-WRC competitors virtually from the outset of the three day rally run near the southern coast of Portugal. The two-time New Zealand rally champion established a 33.3 second lead after Friday’s six stages, taking five stage wins along the way. On Saturday, Paddon pushed hard through the morning’s three runs to extend his lead to over three minutes.
“With a 30 second lead starting this morning, our plan was to push and extend our lead on the first pass over the stages,” said Paddon of his day two strategy which played a critical role in his success. “The feeling in the car was good and although the slippery, dusty road conditions sometimes made it difficult, we were able to set some good times, mixing it with some of the WRC cars. Going back to midday service we had stretched our lead to over a minute and in the afternoon, when our closest competition hit problems in the rough conditions, we decided to back off to protect our car on the deteriorating roads.
“It was very difficult to drive at less than full pace, knowing that from there the rally was ours to lose. But we had to constantly keep the end result in mind and drive with the head instead of the right foot,” he said.
Despite lowering his pace slightly, Paddon successfully completed each of Saturday afternoon’s three repeated stages second fastest while continually extending his overall category lead as competitors experienced issues. Paddon and Kennard ended day two with a commanding 6 minute, 35 second advantage over the second-placed competitor.
With just four stages to run on Sunday, Paddon started well, winning the first 21km stage to push his lead out to over seven minutes, but then his new Subaru suffered a bent steering arm on stage two. However, with such a lead, he could afford to back right off, drop almost two minutes and still arrive at the finish having increased his leading margin to over eight minutes.
“We kind of knew that was a weak point on the car and when it happened, I backed off, got to the end of the stage and fixed it. It was no problem - we’re carrying loads of spares in the car today, just to be safe.”
The Kiwis cruised through the repeated afternoon stages with their final winning margin of 7 minutes 39.3 seconds creating history in world rallying circles.
Paddon is obviously delighted to post a win on his debut in a Subaru.
“The car’s been fantastic,” he said. “It’s much better than the Mitsubishi in the tight and twisty stuff; it just picks up and goes out of the corners. Okay, we miss a little bit at the top end of the engine, but the handling makes up for that. It’s been a great rally!”
Another exciting aspect of Sunday’s action for the Kiwis was getting to run as second car on the road, ahead of all the WRC cars. Paddon explained this is part of the event’s final stage, which was broadcast live around the world. “The top 20 cars run in reverse order, to spice up the entertainment.”
Paddon also noted that the Belgium-based Symtech Racing team which built and runs the Subaru Impreza WRX STI for the Kiwi team did a fantastic job to keep the car going. “It got such a battering on the roads, but the car’s been strong and the team were fantastic. I cannot thank the Symtech Racing team and everyone back at home enough for giving me this opportunity.
This is the start of bigger things, as I know there is a lot more to come from both myself and the car, as we accustom ourselves to our Subaru more. There is still a long way to go in the championship and our next round, in Argentina, will be a different kettle of fish, but at least we know we are in the ball park.”
The class win puts Paddon straight into second place on the P-WRC points-table. Czech driver Martin Semerad won the first P-WRC round in Sweden earlier this year and leads with 40 points. Competitors can nominate six of seven P-WRC rounds, so Paddon’s campaign started with the Portuguese event. He now has 25 points, ahead of Ukrainian Valeriy Gorban with 22 points. Paddon also has the advantage of another round in which to score points compared to those drivers who contested Sweden.
Paddon and Kennard return to New Zealand to run another Subaru STI in the opening round of the New Zealand Rally Championship at Rally Otago over the weekend of 9 and 10 April. Then the pair meets their Symtech team in Argentina where they’ll experience WRC rallying in South America for the first time. Their P-WRC campaign also takes them to Finland, Australia, Spain and Great Britain, with another New Zealand event – the International Rally of Whangarei, which they’ve won three times – also on the calendar.

As well as gunning for the P-WRC championship title, Paddon is tackling the New Zealand Rally Championship with his entry for two rounds confirmed and funding being sought to do more.

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