Paddon struggles for pace in closely fought Canary Is rally

Hayden Paddon navigates a bend during Rally Islas Canarias at the weekend. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Hayden Paddon navigates a bend during Rally Islas Canarias at the weekend. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
New Zealand rally driver Hayden Paddon lamented a lack of overall pace after the latest round of the European Rally Championship.

Paddon finished sixth at the all-tarmac Rally Islas Canarias in the Canary Islands at the weekend.

He and co-driver John Kennard, the defending ERC champions, faced a gruelling battle in a fiercely competitive field in their BRC Racing-run Hyundai i20 Rally 2.

The Kiwi pair started the weekend well by winning the opening super special stage, a 1.8km sprint around the streets of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria that ended inside a stadium.

The intensity of competition was highlighted by the close times throughout Saturday’s six special stages.

Paddon started the day with the 12th-fastest time and improved with each stage to finish the day in third place, just 12.1sec behind the leader, Spaniard Alejandro Cachon.

"We were really struggling with handling on the morning loop, then the team did an amazing job to change the setup for the afternoon, which gave us a lot more confidence," Paddon said.

With another trio of repeated stages to wrap up the rally, Paddon and Kennard were ready to give it their best shot.

However, they were fighting against two very fast French drivers and three Spaniards for the final podium positions and did not quite have the same pace.

The New Zealand pair finished sixth overall, just over 40sec behind the winner, Frenchman Yoan Bonato, a year after placing second at the rally.

"Not the result we wanted but not from a lack of trying, having done the best we could with what we have," Paddon said.

"We’re just missing some pace to the very fast local drivers.

"The ERC is so close this year. Last year, we finished second here, 36sec off the leader, and this year, we were sixth and only 40sec behind the winner."

Paddon still moves up to sixth in the overall ERC standings. He has 35 points, trailing championship leader Mathieu Franceschi by 21 points and holding a two-point lead over third-placed Simone Tempestini.

He returns to ERC action in Sweden in June and Estonia month later, and both rallies are back on the familiar gravel.

Before then, Paddon joins the New Zealand Rally Championship for the one-day Rally South Canterbury on Saturday.

Christchurch youngster Jared Hudson is co-driving beside Paddon, who will be piloting the multi championship-winning Hyundai i20 AP4 car for the first time in two years.

Geraldine-raised Paddon starts his NZRC campaign behind the eight-ball, having missed the first round in Otago due to competing at the ERC’s Rally Hungary.

"I’m very much looking forward to getting back to what is sort of our home rally on the roads around Timaru.

"Obviously there is a bit of a target on our back, but it’s also exciting to see the strength of local competition."

The South Canterbury rally comprises eight stages and 154km, and wraps up with some high-speed runs around the Levels Raceway super special stage.