Hayden Paddon fought to second overall at Rallye Sanremo, as he made his debut at the event, and at the wheel of the New Generation i20 R5.
The event, a former stop on the World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar, is now one of the most famous and challenging rounds of the Italian national championship, with several of the top crews starting with the advantage of local knowledge and years of experience on the rally. With Rallye Sanremo forming part of Paddons preparations for next weekends Tour de Corse it was decided that he and co-driver Seb Marshall would only recce each stage twice, reflecting the current WRC regulations.
Opening the road on the first stages Paddon straight away proved he could compete with more experienced crews at the front of the rally. He entered the regroup in central Sanremo after the initial loop in third position overall. Though the Hyundai Motorsport crews lack of local knowledge put them on the back foot, they were one of a few top teams to improve on their time on the second pass through the stages, closely matching the favourites for the victory.
During the first service the team was able to further adapt the New Generation i20 R5 to both the New Zealanders driving style and the tricky roads on the hills overlooking the rallys base. The changes immediately paid off once the competition restarted, the teams now running in darkness. On the first of the two night stages, the longest of the weekend at 33km, Paddon recorded the fastest time despite a costly spin exiting a hairpin only metres from the finish, and moved up to second overall.
For Saturday, the final day of the rally, the focus turned to consolidating second position while Hayden continued to gain mileage on tarmac as he prepares for the Tour de Corse next weekend. Through the morning loop Paddon increased the gap between himself and the third placed driver, consistently setting second fastest stage times behind the multiple Italian champion who would go on to victory.
The final two stages were complicated by a rain shower than dampened the roads, further raising the difficulty of the rally. However, in these changing conditions Paddon and Marshall showed their experience, maintaining the pace and position in relation to the teams around them, even improving on their morning time through the penultimate stage as the crew made crucial changes to the pacenotes based on their experience in the morning.
Paddon said: For me Rallye Sanremo has been a really enjoyable event. The stages here have a great character, with a lot of challenging sections where there is not a lot of room for mistakes. In some places the roads are similar to Corsica, so to have finished here with such a strong performance is the best preparation for the WRC in France next weekend. The New Generation i20 R5 has been great all weekend its a very nice car to drive. Because it has slightly less power than the WRC car I was able to focus more my driving lines and style, which has improved during this event. As I got used to the feel of the grip levels on the tarmac we were able to make handling adjustments, which I could really feel when we got to the stages. Arriving here with little previous knowledge of the roads we knew it was going to be tough to compare ourselves with the local crews but we showed we could compete with them by taking an important stage win away from them.
Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing manager Andrea Adamo said: Rallye Sanremo is always challenging and this year was no exception. Of course it was a good way for Hayden to prepare for Tour de Corse, but also for the Customer Racing department and the New Generation i20 R5 it was a very strong weekend. With Haydens feedback we improved the set-up of the car throughout the event and he was able to set very competitive times, including a stage win on Friday night. The Italian championship is very strong, with some extremely experienced teams and crews who know the roads around Sanremo much better than Hayden and Seb. However, that they could enter the rally and perform as well as we have shows not only Haydens ability but the performance of the New Generation i20 R5.