Kiwi rally drivers Hayden Paddon and John Kennard have made history with their victory at Rally Argentina in their Hyundai i20 rally car as the first New Zealanders to ever win a round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Paddon delivered the drive of his life on the very last challenge of the rally – the famed, mountainous, rock-strewn El Condor special stage – to wrench the rally victory from three-time WRC champion Sébastien Ogier on Sunday afternoon (Argentinean time). Paddon, originally from Geraldine, now holds second place in the WRC drivers’ championship with 57 points to Ogier’s 96 – the highest-ever championship position for a Kiwi rally driver.
Paddon and Kennard, from Blenheim, started Sunday’s final three-stage leg of Rally Argentina in the lead with a margin of 29.8 seconds over Ogier. The first fog-affected run through El Condor saw Ogier take 7.4 seconds out of Paddon’s lead as Paddon lost precious seconds with a gear-change issue. Special stage 17 saw Ogier deliver a blistering run which cut Paddon’s lead to a mere 2.6 seconds with just the final power stage to go. But Paddon stood up to the Frenchman’s challenge, saying he drove the wheels off his new generation Hyundai 120 WRC car to secure not only his first power stage win, but also his debut WRC rally win.
“It’s an amazing feeling, to win like this, on the last stage where the odds were a little bit against us,” said Paddon at the rally finish. “We lost a lot of time in the previous stage and just over two seconds margin going into that last one – I didn’t have a lot of confidence, but we just pushed like hell.”
“We’ve worked a lot on that stage in the three weeks before the rally because I’ve not been particularly strong on the tight and twisty stages. It’s a fantastic result for me, John and the whole team. A huge amount of work has gone into the New Generation i20 WRC. I knew from the first test that we could win with it. I just didn’t quite expect it to be so soon.”
“Everyone in the team, at the rallies and at Alzenau, thoroughly deserves this result. I am sure it’s the start of a lot more to come! I am thankful for everyone who has supported us back home in New Zealand and for all the positive messages we’ve received this weekend.”
In what has been a history-making weekend of competition, Paddon won five WRC stages, bringing his total WRC stage victories to 15. He’s the second driver from the Southern Hemisphere to win a WRC round (the first being Argentina’s Jorge Recalde who won his home rally in a Lancia in 1988 and in again in a drivers-only round in 1995).
The event victory gives Paddon’s team, Hyundai Motorsport, its first win on a gravel event with Paddon’s team-mate Thierry Neuville having delivered the only other WRC event win for Hyundai on the German tarmac in 2014. It’s also the first win in the new generation Hyundai i20 WRC car in only its fourth outing. All three Hyundai Motorsport crews finished in the top six with Dani Sordo fourth overall and second to Paddon in the points-earning power stage to equal his best result of the season so far and Neuville was sixth to allow Hyundai Motorsport to improve its manufacturers’ championship standing.
Andy Sinclair, General Manager of Hyundai New Zealand, was rapt to see Paddon and Kennard on the top step of the podium in Argentina.
“Congratulations to Hayden and John on a truly outstanding performance to secure their first-ever WRC rally victory,” said Sinclair.
“At Hyundai New Zealand, we have had the great pleasure of working with Hayden since he secured his contract with Hyundai Motorsport. Hayden’s talent, professionalism and determination shine through in everything he does – he and John work incredibly hard and this success is surely just the start of many more such victories. We are looking forward to joining Hayden, John and the Hyundai New Zealand Rally Team crew at the International Rally of Whangarei this week as they compete for the second time in our New Zealand-built i20 rally car, a rally car supported by Hyundai New Zealand. It’s going to be great!”
Prior to the next WRC round in Portugal toward the end of May, Paddon and Kennard fly back to New Zealand to compete in the International Rally of Whangarei (29 April-1 May) in the New Zealand-built Hyundai i20 rally car in which they secured an astounding record-breaking win at Rally Otago just the week before Argentina. The New Zealand-built i20 rally car is part of a new partnership with Hyundai New Zealand designed to foster rallying and other competitors in New Zealand. The project also involves students who participate in a Hyundai New Zealand-backed mentoring programme for talented, passionate teenagers 15-18 years old called the Pinnacle Programme.
FIA World Rally Championship, round 4, Rally Argentina
Overall Final Classification
1. H. Paddon / J. Kennard (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) 2:54:45.6
2. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +14.3
3. A. Mikkelsen / A. Jaeger (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +1:05.2
4. D. Sordo / M. Martí (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +1:17.1
5. M. Østberg / O. Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:56.7
6. T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +9:29.5
7. M. Ligato / R. Garcia (Citroën DS3 WRC) +9:39.2
8. E. Camilli / B. Veillas (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +10:16.0
9. H. Solberg / I. Minor (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +10:48.5
10. N. Fuchs / F. Mussano (Škoda Fabia R5) +24:42.8
2016 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
S. Ogier 96 points / H. Paddon 57 / M. Østberg 52 / A. Mikkelsen 48 / D. Sordo 44 / J. M. Latvala 27 / O. Tanak 24 / T. Neuville 23/ S. Lefebvre 10 / H. Solberg 8 / M. Prokop 6 / E. Evans 6 / M. Ligato 6 / C. Breen 4 / L. Bertelli 4 / E. Camilli 4 / T. Suninen 3 / E. Lappi 2 / A. Kremer 1 / K. Meeke 1 / V. Gorban 1 / N. Fuchs 1
2016 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
Volkswagen Motorsport 117 points / Hyundai Motorsport 81 / M-Sport World Rally Team 62 / Hyundai Motorsport N 49 / Volkswagen Motorsport II 45 / DMACK World Rally Team 30 / Jipocar Czech National Team 6