Hayden Paddon secured his fifth outright victory in the Rally of Otago this weekend to create the perfect debut for his brand-new New Zealand-built Hyundai i20 rally car.
Paddon blitzed the New Zealand Rally Championship field to win the two-day 40th anniversary Otago Rally by 9 minutes 22.1 seconds from defending NZRC champion Ben Hunt and third-placed David Holder who competes in Paddon's former championship-winning car.
“It was pretty much the perfect debut for the new Hyundai,” said Paddon, who was back home between his WRC commitments to launch the first-ever New Zealand-developed Hyundai rally car which is part of a new partnership with Hyundai New Zealand.
“If anything, it probably exceeded my expectations. The base of the car is very good. Our team worked very long hours coming up to the rally getting the car ready, and even right up to shakedown we were having problems so they were able to get on top on those right before the start of the rally which was great.”
While Paddon says there are still some things to be addressed with the car, he believes there's a lot more speed yet to come from the 1.8-litre, turbocharged i20 car, the chassis of which has been built to relatively new AP4 (Asia Pacific) regulations in conjunction with well-known rally driver and fabricator Andrew Hawkeswood of Force Motorsport.
“I think as a starting base, it couldn't be much better. Compared to the classic car we drove to victory here last year, the speeds are lot higher. As a rally driver, you want to going as fast as you can – of course I love the speed and the speed you can carry through the corners in this car is quite impressive.”
Paddon says the concept of the AP4 regulations is right on track: “We're not trying to build or design a WRC car here, so it's not at that level, but as a value for money package, you simply can't get any better.
“At the moment, the majority of the performance of the car is coming from the chassis and the suspension and this is where you get the real benefits of this type of car; the engine is relatively secondary.”
Of the rally itself, which Paddon and co-driver John Kennard have won four times previously, Paddon said: “Only about 30 per cent of stages we'd actually done before as much of the route was new or being driven in the opposite direction, so that was a good challenge. It's always more difficult when you're trying to drive at speed on a one-pass recce (compared to a two-pass recce of WRC event) so we certainly noticed the difference when we got back to stages that we knew from the past. It was a nice challenge and keeps you on toes and keeps you refreshed.”
“[Also] out on the stages, it's the most spectators I've ever seen at an NZRC event. There were some really massive crowds out there and for Hyundai to be part of that for their first-ever NZRC rally, created a great buzz. Just amazing crowds and really fantastic for the Otago rally as it celebrates its 40th year.
“It's been a massive weekend with Hyundai New Zealand and many representatives from around their nationwide dealer network and I thank them all for their support and enthusiasm. Both John and I, and the rest of our team look forward to joining everyone in Whangarei at the end of this month to further refine this exciting NZ-built i20 rally car.”
Paddon now returns to WRC duties for Rally Argentina, April 21-24, before flying back to NZ to contest the International Rally of Whangarei the following weekend, April 29-May 1.