Paddon, now based in Montgat, Spain, and Kennard, from Blenheim, commence their challenge to win the 2012 FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship at Rally Sweden, which runs from 9 to 12 February.
Paddon says he’s very excited by the prospect of competing on snow for the first time in his ASM Motorsports-prepared Skoda Fabia S2000 rally car.
"I have studied a fair bit of video footage and there certainly seems to be more room for error with snow banks,” says the 24-year-old world rally production car champion. "The grip levels are very good with snow tyres, but also differ considerably between the snow and ice which is something I am yet to learn.”
Careful planning and preparation is a trademark of Paddon’s career to date and the Kiwi is taking the same approach to preparing for his competitive snow debut with a full day of testing in Norway this Sunday, 5 February.
"We completed a short gravel test in Spain last week which gave me a chance to learn the Skoda’s systems, the basic balance of the car and how things with the team work, and this all went well. Alex Sabater and the team from ASM Motorsports are very passionate and enthusiastic. Since getting the car, they have worked really hard on its preparation and with my long-time friend and mechanic Neil who also working in the team, everything is gelling very well.”
Paddon says the initial gravel test was kept short with a few specific goals and Sunday’s longer test in Norway will focus on finding a good setup for snow.
"Before testing in Norway, I’ll be doing a day’s training in Finland on Friday to learn about driving on snow. This should give me valuable experience to take into Sunday’s test where we plan to run for 80 to 100 km in daylight and full dark conditions. Several of the Swedish rally stages are run at night. Sunday’s priority is to work on the setup to get the most of the car and given that the car is new, there will be some trial and error trying to find the best setup.”
Following Sunday’s test, Paddon heads right into Rally Sweden with admin duties on Monday at rally headquarters in Karlstad, a lake-edge city in west-central Sweden, while the team sets up at the service park in Hagfors about 90 km to the north. On Tuesday and Wednesday Paddon and Kennard do reconnaissance of the full rally route before Thursday morning’s shakedown run near Hagfors, to the north of Karlstad. The rally commences on Thursday evening with the opening ceremony and first run around the Karlstad super special stage which is built on a horse trotting circuit. Many of Friday’s nine stages take place across the border in Norway with the lunchtime service in the town of Kongsvinger and wrapping up with another run on the Karlstad super special. Saturday’s eight stages are largely north of Karlstad and include the classic stage ‘Vargasen’ which features the famous Colin’s Crest, named in memory of the late Colin McRae. The day includes two sprints around the Hagfors arena stage a short drive from the service park. On Sunday Paddon and Kennard have six further stages, including two runs on the 15.42 km Hagfors power stage on the outskirts of town.
In terms of competition, Paddon says although WRC event winner Sebastién Ogier is not registered for the Super 2000 World Rally Championship, he is still in a S2000 car – a Volkswagen-backed Skoda similar to Paddon’s – and is seeded immediately ahead of the talented Kiwi, behind 21 WRC entrants.
"With Ogier in a very similar car, we’ll be bench-marking ourselves against him as well as the second VW driver – who at this event is IRC champion Norwegian Andres Milkenson,” says Paddon.
"In the SWRC our two main rivals for the season will be Irishman Craig Breen in a Ford Fiesta S2000 and Swedish driver PG Andersson in a Proton Satria Neo S2000 as we’ve seen compete in New Zealand. PG will be particularly interesting to track with this being his home event. There are six full SWRC entrants plus two wildcards at each event, so with eight competitors potentially earning points at each round plus the two VW drivers to keep an eye on, there’s plenty of new competition this season.”
In Sweden, Paddon and Kennard can expect temperatures as low as minus 25 degrees centigrade and vast numbers of rally fans lining the stages.
Paddon’s 2012 campaign is supported by PlaceMakers, Giltrap Group, Skoda, Cameron Sea and Airfreight, Granger Design, Castrol, Raiseys, New Balance, Pope Print, Racetech, Chicane Racewear, Endless Brake Pads, 1 Group web design and Brita Safety.
The team shares news, images and results via the website www.haydenpaddon.com, text updates, Twitter and Facebook.