Ha. Just kidding, but seriously there are hundreds of fellow Kiwis here at the 2016 Kennards Hire Rally Australia thanks to one man; Hayden Paddon. It’s hard to go anywhere in Coffs Harbour without seeing Paddon’s army of loyal supporters. They never venture out without their Hyundai NZ shirts, and of course they make their presence known with the typical cheeky Kiwi humour and contagious joy.
But what does Paddon think of all this?
“We can almost call it a home rally with the amount of Kiwi fans that come over, but also the Australians do seem to adopt us a little bit... [and] having that little bit of enthusiasm from the fans and from everyone supporting the rally gives you that bit of an extra push and makes you want to put on a good show and get a good result,” said Paddon.
It’s also safe to say he’s is the ‘local’ favourite to do well here so probably has a huge big target on his back but that doesn’t trouble the 29-year-old. He’s clearly relaxed and enjoying the good buzz.
But of course, it’s not all about us Kiwis (as much as we’d like to think so). Hundreds of other rally fans are also descending on the coastal town to catch the action. Unfortunately, the Australian event has ended up being the only World Rally Championship (WRC) rally in the Asia-Pacific region this year after China was cancelled, meaning both fans and drivers only have one chance to enjoy it down here.
Today was the first chance teams got to test their machines on the typically fast roads Australia is known for as WRC regulations dictate that teams can’t test their cars outside of Europe. So drivers had to rely on data from previous years and a test in France to make their statement early on.
Naturally and rather unsurprisingly, it was the Volkswagen of Sebastien Ogier who topped the time sheets, ahead of his team-mate Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen. The duo were separated by a mere 0.1 of a second, which fans hope are a sign of things to come.
With the recent announcement that Volkswagen will withdraw from the World Rally Championship (WRC) from next year, the VW drivers are hungrier than ever to claim the top spot to finish their WRC campaign on a high.
“Of course it’s a special weekend for us here to try to be with this emotion and don’t think too much...On Sunday night we will be emotional… [but] I want to keep thinking positive and we should be very happy and proud of what we achieved together all these years,” said Ogier.
There are also plenty of rumours circulating about who is going where and what happens to the 2017 VW but nothing has been confirmed yet. Perhaps we can learn more over the weekend? If we do, you’ll be able to read about here on The Motorhood.
But also pushing this weekend, and for his first WRC win, is M-Sport’s Ott Tänak who was less than a second behind the World Champion.
“It’s the last event of the year and we have some really good run in Wales.We got some good feeling from there, and actually really looking forward [to this weekend] and we also have the road position to use,” said Tänak.
With exactly the same time, which is incredibly rare in rallying, Hyundai drivers Thierry Neuville and Hayden Paddon finished fourth equal. That target we talked about on Paddon? Yeah, it’s definitely there after that sharp time.And of course the three Hyundai drivers [Paddon, Neuville and Dani Sordo] all want to claim a WRC Drivers’ Championship podium, but it all rests on their performance this weekend.
- Either way, the times will do all the talking this weekend. The first stage starts tomorrow at 9.56am New Zealand time. But it’s a huge day and anything could happen with 11 stages to complete before the overnight stop.
We’ll bring you more updates tomorrow but if you want to watch the action live, phone a friend who has SKY Sport. They’re broadcasting the final two stages of the day live on TV at 8.30pm on SKY Sport 4. It sounds like a good excuse for a few Friday night beers to us.
1. Ogier — 3:01.5
2. Mikkelsen — 3:01.6
3. Tänak — 3:02.3
4. Neuville/Paddon — 3:02.5
5. Camilli — 3:03.3
Thanks to Alana McIsaac for the words and photos.