Hayden Paddon planning on team player role as WRC hits German tarmac
Hayden Paddon will be a team player at Rally Germany this week.
After a season's best second-place finish in Poland early last month, the frustrating nature of Kiwi driver Paddon's 2017 WRC campaign continued at his favoured Rally Finland a few weeks later.
He ran over rocks and was forced to retire on two of the event's three days, another disappointing result leaving him stuck in eighth overall following last year's impressive fourth-placing on the standings.
With just four rallies remaining, Paddon's focus has switched from picking up championship points to helping his Hyundai team in the manufacturer battle and further honing his skills and picking up valuable data for what he hopes will be a much better 2018.
The latter is particularly relevant in Germany, the second of three events raced on tarmac, the surface the 30-year-old from Geraldine is least familiar with.
Paddon said his main objectives for what his regarded as the most technical of the WRC tarmac rallies were clear.
"It's my fifth time here and we want to finish the rally.
"It's clear that my team-mates Thierry [Neuville] and Dani [Sordo] will be challenging for the win, so we must play the team role and ensure we pick up some manufacturer points in case one of them runs into trouble.
"We are always progressing on tarmac but, of course, nothing stands still in this sport – everyone else is also progressing.
"We have to be realistic though – the long-term goal is not necessarily to be the fastest tarmac driver – it's about being competitive and collecting strong points."
Paddon knows he must continue to improve on tarmac if he is to be a genuine contender for the world driver's championship.
With that in mind, he has taken part in two non-WRC rallies on the harder surface during this season, contesting a round of the Italian Championship (Rallye Sanremo) at the start of April and a round of the French championship (Rallye Rouergue) at the start of last month.
Although he knows being competitive on tarmac at WRC level is a significant step up, second-place finishes at both events showed he is making strides forward.
"It has been great to do two tarmac events with the R5 this year as the team helps me to build my experience on tarmac," Paddon said.
"The priority was simply to get more miles so I can adjust to the grip levels which we were able to do.
"It's certainly more difficult for me on tarmac to judge that fine line between under and over driving, but it will come with time."
This week will also be the fifth time Paddon's co-driver Seb Marshall has taken part in Rally Germany, where he made his debut at WRC level in 2008.
Based at Bostalsee in the country's west, close to the French border, the event is renowned for the wide variety of tarmac the drivers must tackle and the often unpredictable weather.
Paddon called it "three rallies in one", while Marshall felt it was incomparable on the WRC circuit.
"There's a different style and rhythm to each day of action; the Mosel vineyards, Baumholder Military Range and Saarland farmland stages," the Brit said.
"The weather can be very varied and unpredictable in this region so it's important to liaise well with our safety crew to get the latest road condition information.
"We'll be in good hands with some familiar faces in Brendan Reeves and John Kennard fulfilling this role for us."
The 21-stage rally begins with the 2.05km Saarbrucken super special stage on Thursday night (Friday morning NZ time) before firing into life proper the next morning.