World Rally Championship is hard nut to crack

By David Thomson on Sat, 24 Feb 2018

Could have been worse, could have been better. That was my feeling after Kiwi rally ace Hayden Paddon's run to fifth place at last weekend's Swedish round of the WRC.

With Paddon making his first WRC appearance of 2018, I followed the event closely on the WRC website, tracking his times through the stages on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, and catching up with his end-of-leg placings each morning.

A strong drive to third place on the first full day of the event was an absolute highlight, especially when Paddon picked up a couple of stage wins along the way. For a range of reasons the next two days didn't go quite so well, but all things considered this was a solid performance: good enough to justify Paddon's place in the Hyundai WRC team, but unfortunately not quite enough to suggest that Hyundai have got it wrong in giving our favourite rally star a reduced WRC programme this year rather than the full championship programme of his team mates Thierry Neuville and Andreas Mikkelsen.

Paddon has been quite open about his biggest frustration now: he doesn't get to turn out on the WRC again until Rally Portugal in mid-May. Two of the three events between now and then - in Mexico and Argentina - are gravel rallies that play to his strengths as a driver; most obviously it is bewildering to me that Paddon is not lining up for Hyundai in Argentina, a rally he won two years ago.

Appearances on the New Zealand scene - Rally Otago in mid-April included - will play an important role in keeping Paddon ‘‘match fit'' for his return to the WRC scene in just under three months time.

While Paddon was battling at the sharp end of the field in Sweden last weekend, he wasn't the only Kiwi in the event: former national champion and past Otago Rally winner David Holder was making his debut in the junior division of the WRC.

Dubbed the JWRC, this division of the series sees all drivers behind the wheel of near-identical Ford Fiesta rally cars. Holder and his long-time co-driver Jason Farmer finished ninth in the JWRC field, which wasn't a bad effort given how utterly alien the snowy roads of the Swedish Rally are to Kiwi drivers.

Ironically, Holder and Farmer will be back on the WRC stage before Paddon; the next round of the JWRC is on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica in early April. The Bay of Plenty duo will then feature in the same field as Paddon again, at Rally Portugal, in May.

That's the next time I'll be tuning into the WRC in anything but a cursory way.

David Thomson