We’ve now had a few days to settle down and digest the drama that unfolded on Rally Argentina this past Sunday. I think it’s safe to say that this will be one of the rallies that we will remember forever, much like the duel between Sebastien Loeb and Marcus Gronholm in the 2007 Rally New Zealand. Much has already been said and written about Hayden Paddon’s performance this weekend, and there isn’t much that I can add to this topic without being repetitive and boring. Hayden put on the performance of a lifetime in Argentina, and he fully deserves all the praise that he has been receiving. His potential that we all saw last season is now beginning to come to fruition. There are some exciting times coming both for Hayden and the WRC in the very near future, and it is already difficult to find the patience to wait for Rally Portugal in a few weeks time.
However, before rushing on towards the speculation and anticipation surrounding the next rally, I want to encourage you to take 13 minutes out of your day to savor what transpired up on El Condor this past Sunday. If you’ve been on the fence about WRC+ up until now, this is the perfect reason to take the plunge and give it a try. This morning, I decided to sit down with my tea and use the onboard comparison feature of WRC+ to watch Sebastien Ogier and Hayden Paddon side by side as they plummeted down the mountain. Right now, I urge you do do the same thing. Take a close look at the body language of the cars and periodically switch between the sounds for each video to listen to the notes of the engines. It’s only 13 minutes (and 8 seconds), but its 13 minutes well spent and I promise I’ll be here when you come back.
Alright, did you watch it? What did you notice?
Yesterday, Hayden admitted that El Condor was his weakest stage and that he spent extra time and effort analyzing onboard footage to identify the areas where he needed to improve. Those 13 minutes of side by side footage are the evidence showing just how much this extra effort paid off for Paddon. Did you see how much speed he was carrying into and through the corners? When the videos of Ogier and Paddon are placed next to each other, it becomes clear how that 11.7 second gap developed. There was no one place where Ogier lost time, but with each corner, he was losing a tenth. Sebastien was smooth as always, but he was also very deliberate in his driving style. He got the car locked down for each apex, and was very tidy as he moved systematically from corner to corner. Hayden, on the other hand, treated the stage like a race track. As he rocketed down the mountainside, he was linking corners together into one smooth and flowing sequence. As he followed the ideal line through the stage, it almost appeared that his Hyundai i20 was “floating” over the bumps with almost no bobble or hesitation in the engine notes. It was in some of those rough places where Ogier seemed to lose more time. While Paddon’s car danced over the rough areas and punched out of the tight corners, Ogier’s Polo seemed to get bogged down for just a fraction of a second. It wasn’t much, but over 16.32km, it added up and made the difference. If you’re really feeling ambitions and have the time, take a look at Paddon’s 2015 run through El Condor where he was 8 seconds slower than this year. It will be easy to see how far Hayden has come in just 12 months. Last year, he was hesitating before almost every corner, braking early, and coasting over the rough patches. It appeared that he was “feeling” his way through the stage as he feathered the throttle and lifted long before the corners arrived. This year, there was none of that hesitation as he attacked the stage with full confidence and commitment.
To some, this might all seem a bit nit-picky. I understand that in today’s world of short attention spans it takes a great deal of dedication to sit down and watch an entire stage from start to finish. We all love the big slides, huge jumps, and pluming dust clouds featured on the flashy highlight clips. However, sometimes these highlights just don’t capture the small details that make rallying so special. Onboard videos might seem a bit dry, but if you put in the time to study them, you will be rewarded with a rich understanding of the nuances of this spectacular sport. In this case, it’s only 13 minutes, and it’s time well spent.