Paddon after Monte
27 Jan 2016
By Hayden Paddon
Well what a tough weekend that was – but I can’t say we were not expecting it. Despite the drier/warmer conditions than normal it by all means did not make it an easy Monte Carlo Rally. A lot of patchy ice and mud was able to keep us on our toes along with quickly changing conditions. Despite retiring on Friday morning, we were able to rejoin for the last 2 days, set some competitive times but more importantly gather a lot of experience and information for when we return here in 12 months time.
The rally was very challenging right from the outset; with overnight snow on Monday meaning - Tuesday recce involved a lot of ice/snow. But it became evident that the roads were changing by the hour, which made it difficult to write accurate notes for the rally. An example of that is the stages we competed on today (Sunday) we recced on Monday…..6 days ago!! Its all part of the challenge, made a little harder for us as we are not used to these conditions and knowing what to expect. I can tell you after this week however, now I am :)
The rally did not start too bad for us however, lying 5th overall after Thursday nights 2 stages. The 2 stages were quite contrasting, 1 that was damp/dry, the other with 4km of snow/ice at the end. So we were thrown straight into tyre strategies and decisions from the start. Everyone took 4 slicks and 2 studded tyres…apart from us. We elected to take 4 slicks and 2 winter (non studded tyres), which worked well. We were 2nd fastest in the snow section of SS2, which allowed us to climb up the leader board.
We wouldn’t go any further however, the slowest of right hand corners on an icy section on the opening stage of Friday claimed us – slightly clipping a tree which broke the left rear upright and suspension. This stage (SS3) at 14km long only had a 1km ice section, and we knew very well about this section. In fact this particular corner I dreamt about the night before and I knew how cautious we had to be. However this was our first time using slicks on ice - and despite feeling like I could get out of the car and walk faster, it was still too fast! That’s the difficultly with this rally, when you cant see your competition it is really hard to gauge what is too slow and too fast when conditions are extreme like that. Clearly this was slightly too fast, which is a valuable lesson for the future. It did make me feel a little better that we were not the only one caught out by this corner, in fact several drivers also were J
Rejoining on Saturday, the target was to not make the same mistake twice, but to also get through all the remaining stages to get some experience. We did just that, setting a few top 5 stage times, a few top 3 spilt times and 2nd fastest in a Hyundai 1-2-3 on one stage. So some positives to take away from the rally.
Monte Carlo is a unique rally where outright speed is not necessarily the most important for a good result. To win – yes, but for a solid top 5 result its about having no problems and making the right tyre decisions. A good example of the tyre decision/compromise was Saturday afternoon. With the 50km stage predominately being dry, the best decision for this stage was slicks. However the following 17km stage had 8km of snow/ice as it climbed up and over a ski resort – for which the best tyre choice would be 4 studded tyres. Obviously we couldn’t take 8 tyres so it was a compromise. We made the decision to take the tyres that would work best for the snowy 17km stage (while others gambled the other way around) but to loose 1 minute + on the 50km stage because of the tyres is a hard pill to swallow. But then the next stage we gained almost the 1min back again on the short 17km stage by having the right tyres. In any other rally it is about being as fast as you can on EVERY stage – here its about being prepared to loose big chunks of time to make it up somewhere else. This was also valuable lesson for the future.
Our gravel crew also has a very important job on tarmac rally’s, but even more so on this rally with the changing conditions and the ice. We rely heavily on the information they feed us from driving through the stage 2-3 hours before, and also helps us to make our tyre/set-up decisions. To have the experience of Piero Liatti as our gravel crew who won this rally in 1997 is amazing. Normally Fabrizia Pons co-drivers Piero for our gravel notes but unfortunately she had to head home early. But we were lucky to have Seb Marshall fill in last minute who did a great job. A huge thanks to Piero, Fabrizia and Seb!
All in all it was a positive weekend for the team and new car. To see the new car on the podium on debut is hugely positive but also good reward for all the hard work the team have put in. Obviously there is still a lot more work to do but I’m excited and positive about getting into the new car on loose surfaces, including our next rally in Sweden. A huge thanks to the team who kept us going all weekend and my engineer Rui who is constantly working hard with me to help us improve. This is a massive team sport!
Now the focus is on Sweden where we now return to events we know and enjoy. Essentially our season starts there and we are looking forward to getting it off to a positive start. We are also excited to have the new car for the first time which I think will suit the fast Sweden stages well. We have 1 more day of testing the week before the rally to confirm settings but in the meantime the key word is…..PREPERATION!
Big thanks for all your support and we will keep you posted.