Paddon preparing for exciting year
14 January 2012
New Zealand's world rally champion Hayden Paddon admits that he is excited to be starting a new chapter in his career as he prepares to depart for Spain next week.
The down-to-earth 24-year old will base himself in the coastal town of Montgat, not far from his new team ASM Motorsport, as he gears up to campaign a Skoda Fabia S2000 rally car in the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship.
With a new team, a new car and a new championship to try and win, Paddon can draw on the confidence that comes from partnering with his talented and experienced co-driver, John Kennard, for the seventh consecutive season. The Kiwi will also take a slice of home with him to Spain, as partner Katie takes on a larger support role with Hayden Paddon Rallysport Global Ltd, the company behinds Paddon's campaign to drive in and, one day, win the World Rally Championship title.
In the meantime, however, the driver's head isn't up in the clouds, as he remains as focused as ever on improving and developing as a driver and as a professional.
“From a results perspective, our goal for year is obviously to win SWRC,” Paddon noted in the days before he flew to Europe, “And, in terms of other professional goals, it's to keep learning and developing. Every rally we go to, I try to work on my driving as well as everything I do in and out of the car. Every rally we come away from, we analyse what we've done, take one thing and improve on that for the next one. So, with John, the team and the company, we'll keep doing all those things this year as we have for the past seven.”
Paddon continually seeks to get as much experience out of each rally as he can, to build more and stronger relationships with people competing in and managing WRC teams, and this year, he's got a new car, new competitors and a new championship to take into account.
“Essentially we're trying to build on our previous year's efforts,” says the southern hemisphere native to win the Production World Rally Championship title, “We want to bring more intensity and more speed to it all to try and show that perhaps we do have what it takes to go all the way.”
Paddon acknowledges there's some challenge driving the new category of car, the more powerful Skoda Fabia S2000-spec car but 'in saying that, when I test drive the Skoda last year, within about one or two kilometres of being in it, I just got on and drove it'.
"Once you got the helmet on, it's the same as when we went from the Mitsubishi to the Subaru, you learn what the strengths of the car are and get on and drive it," he continued, "I don't think it will be a problem at all. Actually, the biggest consideration is that our first round in Sweden is the only WRC event I haven't done before and it's on snow, so those two things are going to be more challenging than actually learning the car. It's a great car.”
Paddon says the aim for Sweden is to get a comfortable set-up. He has around 100 kilometres of testing scheduled in Spain the week after he arrives and will then get a short test on Swedish roads near the WRC event's Karlstad base.
“After Sweden, we have a proper two-day test on gravel before our first gravel rally in Portugal," he revealed, "With that test and gravel being the surface I'm most familiar with, I know I want a car to do on that surface and will be able to focus a lot more on the set-up then. We'll also have an extensive tarmac test later in the year as well smaller shakedown tests on the Monday before each event. I'm always keen to make the most of these pre-event tests – because you get to set the car up for the conditions and you're in the car 2-3 days, driving at full speed, before the event. At the heart of this is the fact that ASM Motorsport is very keen for us to do as well as we can this year and to do as much testing as we can manage financially.”
Paddon is pleased with how the connection with a new team is progressing.
“Alex, who heads ASM, is great and the team's really good; really passionate," he smiled, "Coming from a family team background, I guess it's been a bit hard for me to let go of all the car and team management, because I do like being involved with all aspects, but I am learning to let go and focus more on the driving and training side of things.
“However, this year, it's going to be great to my good friend Neil, who's always been my mechanic, coming over to work with the team at every event and Katie is taking more of a team role too. Obviously we have our directors in New Zealand involved also so there's still a strong involvement from home. The team allows us quite a lot of input and we'll be living pretty close to the workshop so I might even find myself in the workshop, trying to figure out how to get more out of the car myself! But realistically as I keep moving forward in the sport, I won't be able to keep working on cars the way I have done in the past, so I'm getting used to that.”
One of the key things Paddon says he took from his championship-winning year in 2011 was the more time he spent on WRC events, the more accustomed to it all he got.
“It makes a massive difference going back to events for the second or third time," he explained, "You don't really even have to think about driving quicker, just having that previous experience makes you subconsciously go quickly. So we have learnt that the experience factor is a really big part of it all and that's why you have to keep going back and doing the rallies to keep getting the miles.
“Last year, we could see our speed on tarmac certainly improved, and our speed from event to event took steps forward as the season progressed – there were some significant steps in performance pre-Portugal and than another one before Australia. Doing events for the first time isn't so bad, but it's certainly easier going back to events you've done before, you've got that much more confidence and can commit to the pace notes more.”