Motorsport: Paddon aiming for the top

By Kris Shannon

Hayden Paddon and John Kennard in action during shakedown for Rally Portugal. Photo / Honza Fronek
Hayden Paddon and John Kennard in action during shakedown for Rally Portugal. Photo / Honza Fronek

Kiwi driver Hayden Paddon will compete in the Super 2000 class at the Rally of New Zealand but he hopes to be racing with the big boys on his next visit.

Paddon won the production class of the World Rally Championship in 2011 and has made a successful start this year driving the S-2000 cars - the next rung up the WRC ladder.

And the 24-year-old expects his stay in the Super 2000 category to be brief, with the full field now well within reach.

"We're working towards a plan to get to the top," Paddon said. "We're just planning this year in the 2000 class, then we want to try and put together a programme to be in a World Rally car for next year.

"I don't think we're far away. We're still relatively the new boy on the block in terms of WRC. There's no substitute for experience so we've got to keep doing events to get that experience."

The events he has driven so far this season have provided plenty of lessons, as well as some success.

Paddon, along with co-driver and fellow Kiwi John Kennard, finished fourth in Sweden after facing roads covered with snow and ice for the first time of his career, before claiming an unexpected victory after being forced to recover from an early retirement in Portugal.

"Portugal was an up-and-down rally," he said. "We retired early in the rally and had to rejoin. We had a little bit of luck involved in getting the win there.

"From a performance point of view, it hasn't been a great start, but from a points and championship point of view it's been a good start."

If that good start continues it will provide further credence to Paddon's claim of competing on the roads against the likes of eight-time world champion Sebastien Loeb.

That's because the Super-2000 is also contested on the same events and stages as the WRC, meaning Paddon can compare his results with the best in the business. And the cars are almost identical to a world rally car, enabling drivers to make the leap to WRC with a minimum of fuss

"These 2000 cars are basically where a lot of young drivers come from when they go into WRC," Paddon said. "The only major difference [in the car] is the aerodynamics and the turbo. The chassis and the geometry of the car is all very similar.

"That's why it's a really good way to learn how to drive these cars. I'll be able to cross all this over when we get the opportunity."

When that opportunity comes may also have a lot to do with Paddon's performance against WRC driver Sebastien Ogier. The French driver is driving in a similar Skoda to Paddon, ensuring the seven-time rally winner has a target firmly fixed on his back when the Kiwi is also in the field.

"We're not far off Sebastien Ogier and he's done a lot more miles and spent a lot more time in the car than us.

"We want to show that we can beat him. That's not going to be easy - but if we can do that we'd like to think that'll set us up for more opportunities."

Consistently out-performing Ogier will go along way to seeing Paddon realise his goals his this year and, eventually, the future.

"We want to win the championship and try and make that stepping stone up for next year," he said. "I've got no doubt in my mind we can make it all the way to the top of the sport. It's just a matter of getting the right results and trying to get the right breaks."

- APNZ

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