Life is funny. And sometimes certain opportunities simply appear, almost of their own doing. Well, the following was one of those unique opportunities…
It’s the day after the conclusion of Rally Australia 2016, and, while most of the teams have packed up and are headed home, the team from Hyundai Motorsport remain. Why? Despite their official rally demands being completed, they’ve got one last thing left to do: a race.
If you’re wondering how a race between a helicopter and World Rally Championship (WRC) car comes up, just consider it the result of what happens when a bunch of top-notch pilots fall in love with watching rally live and up close.
So, here we have two hugely expensive machines.
Our rally car is the 2016 Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC. Set to be succeeded by the recently-revealed 2017 Hyundai Motorsport i20 Coupe WRC come January, the 2016 car costs around $650,000 dollars, weighs about 1200kg, and has a 224kW (300hp) turbocharged 1.6-litre engine and four-wheel drive. Piloting it will be Kiwi rally star and Hyundai Motorsport factory driver, Hayden Paddon.
Our ‘chopper’ is a McDonnell Douglas MD 520N. It costs around a million dollars, weighs about 900kg, and has a 336kW (450hp) gas turbine Rolls-Royce engine. At the controls will be Grant ‘Simmo’ Simpson from HAWCS.
Albeit potentially complicated and, yeah, somewhat dangerous, our race is simple: Paddon on the ground (mostly), Simmo in the air (hopefully), first one to complete the stage, wins. Having already ridden shotgun with Paddon in the WRC car, I make the decision (read: get told) to jump in the chopper.
With a simple Three, Two, One, we’re away – helicopter versus rally car.
With Paddon’s i20 able to hit 100km/h from standstill in less than four seconds, even on the loose, red, surface of Rally Australia’s 6.44-kilometre Wedding Bells stage, he’s out of the gates fast and quickly building even more speed.
Responding, Simmo drops the MD’s nose and drops the hammer, all while trying to stay as close to Paddon’s WRC car as possible without trimming any trees.
Paddon hits the first of our shortened stage’s two jumps and gets some serious air. Already in the air, Simmo and I just watch in awe as the 29-year-old New Zealander safely lands the car and keeps the pedal to the metal.
Sideways up the road and into a tight left-hander, Simmo follows Paddon’s every move, while I hang on and try to keep the i20 in sight – mind you, believe it or not, I can hear the damn thing from the air, even with a headset on.
Blasting down what effectively is our stage's ‘back straight’, if you like, Paddon is in spitting distance of his car’s 200km/h top speed, as well as the second jump he’ll need to negotiate safely to win the race.
Hitting the jump at serious pace, Paddon gets yet more serious air-time – dust now flooding the majority of the forest stage.
Working hard, Simmo stays with Paddon as the rally driver lands his car and holds the throttle flat through a sequence of tight switchbacks and direction changes.
With one final tight left-hander to go, it’s neck-and-neck. Paddon comes into the corner at practically 90-degrees, plants the foot, covers all and sundry with clouds of red dust, and crosses our start-finish line.
Close, the rally car takes the win by the slimmest of margins.
This was easily one of the most mental things I’ve ever been a part of. I, along with the whole CarAdvice team, would like to extend a huge thank you to all the people at Hyundai Motorsport and Hyundai Australia for making this helicopter versus rally car race happen.
And, of course, thank you to both Hayden and Grant for being total legends.
Click on the Photos tab for more Helicopter versus Rally car images by Thomas Wielecki.