Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard are looking forward to this weekend and their first competitive event in a world rally car with the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team, which comes at the Rally de Espana located around the cost city of Salou on the Mediterranean coast, about 100km south of Barcelona.

Rally de Espana is unique in this year's FIA World Rally Championship in that it will be the only mixed surface event. It starts on asphalt on Friday and Saturday, but the closing day's stages are then mostly gravel.

"It is an event we've done twice before, so we have a good sense of it and it's a rally I mostly enjoy," said the 26-year-old Kiwi. "The tarmac stages are smooth and flowing, almost like a race track. However the gravel stages are quite tricky, with a soft sandy surface which can be slippery if wet or dry.

"The gravel will be a challenge for us as we have never driven a world rally car on gravel and our scheduled test with the Ford Fiesta RS WRC is on tarmac," he added. "Two years ago they had dust problems here, last year was the problem of too much rain, so hopefully this year there will be a happy medium."

As a result, Paddon said that his natural competitiveness would have to be tempered by pragmatism as he finds his feet in his new car this weekend.

"The first gravel stage on Sunday we'll will be focussed on getting a feel for the car and the greater horsepower on this surface," he said. "Naturally, as a competitive person, I want to perform, but I don't want to over think it and put unnecessary pressure on myself.

"Of course, I'm very excited about the opportunity and cannot wait, but equally John and I are trying to treat the event like any other, to stay relaxed and focused and do the best job we can."

"We're very much looking forward to the challenge of lifting our game to try to compete with the other seven or eight world rally cars at the front of the field that we haven't been able compete with in the S2000 car," added co-driver Kennard, a former WRC team manager who has partnered Paddon for all three New Zealand Rally Championship titles as well as for his breakout 2011 FIA Production car World Rally Championship title.

Paddon and Kennard's Ford Fiesta RS WRC is one of five being run by M-Sport in Spain. They'll be joined in Spain by the team's regular drivers Mads ?stberg, Evgeny Novikov, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Thierry Neuville, as well as by Welsh driver Elfyn Evans as part of the Qatari team line-up.

"It's all very new working with M-Sport at the moment but they are obviously a very professional team with a lot of experience," said Paddon. "I'm sure they will help make our transition to the world rally car as easy as possible as they have been already very helpful and supportive."

In preparation for this weekend's event, Paddon visited M-Sport at their Cumbria base to test a Ford Fiesta R5 rally car and spent two days with high performance trainers Formula Medicine in Viareggio, Italy, which he described as a "fantastic opportunity."

Paddon and co-driver Kennard got their first and only test run in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC on tarmac on Monday, and have spent a day reviewing their pace notes from on-board footage from their run and those of other drivers over the 355.92km, 15 stage circuit, before joining the other 'priority 1' (WRC) drivers for the extended shakedown on Thursday morning.

The Rally de Espana gets underway with a ceremonial start on Friday at 6pm followed by three night stages.

"We have not done any night rallying this year, however we generally have a good set of pace notes which means we can visualise the road ahead well in day or night," said Paddon.

After six stages per day on Saturday and Sunday, the event wraps up back in Salou around 4.30pm on Sunday afternoon.



Loading Comments...