Hayden Paddon: Rally Catalunya
We are now back at base after a relatively successful Rally Spain, finishing 4th but not in the fashion that we had in mind going into the event.
After a really good gravel test the week before, we were confident we have found another level of speed and comfort with the car. Data and comparisons to our teammates confirmed this and I was feeling better than ever in the car. However, two thirds of the way through the first gravel stage on Friday morning, the car had different ideas. Unfortunately we suddenly lost the ALS (Anti-lag system) system, and with no midday service and no quick fix, we had to contend with the problem for the remaining 6 gravel stages of the day. Up until that point on the stage we were 1 second faster than anyone else, and while we still finished the stage 2nd, it was a downhill slope from there.
The ALS system is what keeps the turbo spinning when your off the throttle, so that when you then go back on the throttle, you have instant power/acceleration. Without it, there was always a delay and the power would be a lot slower to ‘come in’. Fortunately the really wet muddy morning conditions saved us a bit from huge time lose, by the drying afternoon conditions where you could better put the power to the ground, it become more of a disadvantage. However, to still be 5th and 47 seconds from the lead at the end of the day was not too bad – it kept us in contention. But we went to bed with a deep feeling of ‘what could have been’.
The two following days of tarmac was always targeted to be about progress and to get things back on track after a disappointing previous two tarmac rallies. The first loop on Saturday morning was about getting the feeling, and while it was an improvement, it was still not where we wanted to be. But at lunch time Saturday, we reverted back to a softer setup from a previous test which gave us both more grip and confidence. From there on in, we were much more competitive, setting 4 top 3 stage times, mixing, matching and even bettering the times of our tarmac specialists teammates. So this was pleasing, and we know there is still lots of refinements and improvements in my driving to come. I’m also realistic to identify that the Spanish style of roads suit me better, and I have A LOT of work to still do on slower/twister stages like we encounter in Germany and Corsica. But now we don’t have to worry about this until next year.
It was a great weekend for the team, with all 4 cars finishing, and 3 cars in the top 4. It’s a huge team effort and to turn around cars so quickly (4-5 days at the workshop for complete rebuilds) from Corsica is incredible. However they now have to do it all again to turn the cars around for next weeks Rally GB. Also a huge thanks to Brendon Reeves and his sister Rhianon Gelsomino who joined us for the first time as our gravel crew here. In the past we have used Piero Liatti and Fabrizia Pons who have been amazing and helped us a lot, but we decided to try something different, which worked really well. Huge credit to both Brendon and Rhi who were thrown in the deep end, but did a perfect job.
Now the focus turns to gravel, and after a missed opportunity and being so close to the podium in the weekend, we want to make up for it at the remaining two events, Rally GB and Australia. This week we have some further testing to prepare for both these events, but also some testing of the 2017 car. Then the busy schedule continues going straight into Rally GB next week. With the event being 2 weeks earlier than normal, the big question is – rain or shine?