WRC's newest winner Hayden Paddon says he will head to Rally de Portugal this week with a “business-as-usual” attitude.
The New Zealander's success in Argentina less than four weeks ago has given him confidence he can fight at the top of the running order, but Paddon isn't getting carried away and is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
“It's very much business as usual,” Paddon said following a recent two-day test in his New Generation Hyundai i20 WRC car in Portugal which leads into a string of European rallies where he has more experience than the two long-haul events in Argentina and Mexico.
“While the confidence is high, our feet are still firmly on the ground. The challenge is greater now with the expectations of our performance and our road position, as being second in the championship behind Sebastien Ogier, we'll be second on the road for Friday and Saturday's legs. We'll stick to our original plan for this season, and maintain our focus to keep improving event by event.”
Paddon's win in Argentina was the first for Hyundai's 2016-spec i20 rally car – as well as making New Zealand motorsport history as the first-ever WRC round win for a New Zealand driver. Paddon says victory in the current spec car was also very positive for the team.
“I think it naturally lifts the motivation within the team somewhat. However, we are all hungry for more and it's good to know that we are all capable of winning, especially as there is more to come in terms of our and the car's performance.”
Of the rally ahead, Paddon says: “Our road position means the first pass of the sandy stages will certainly be looser and more challenging. However, the main person we are focused on for this rally is to stay as close to Seb as we can while in equal conditions. In the future this is the position we need to be fighting from.
“I enjoy this rally, although I would describe it as a medium speed event which doesn't fit my natural style as much as other faster events. However, our performance in these slower, more technical events is an area we have been improving a lot recently, so we will continue that here. The roads can be quite technical and require a lot of information from the pace notes, so that keeps John [Kennard – my co-driver] very busy preparing for and during the rally.”
Paddon says their test focussed on suspension settings, and developing setup strategies for the rally where tyre choice and management is critical.
“It has been a very wet winter here in Portugal and our test was quite wet which was not ideal. While the forecast for the rally is hot and sunny, recent wet weather will mean the roads are soft and we expect it to cut up and get rutted, with exposed rocks, a lot more than normal which will certainly have an impact for all on the second pass, especially given the big field of entries.”