Motorsport: Paddon on slow road to success

By Michael Brown

Hayden Paddon in action during Rally France. Photo / Honza Fronek
Hayden Paddon in action during Rally France. Photo / Honza Fronek

It might sound an oxymoron, but the key to driving a rally car fast is to take it reasonably slowly.

It's a concept New Zealand rally driver Hayden Paddon is still coming to grips with, although the 25-year-old continues to progress and hopes next year to ease behind the steering wheel of a world rally championship car in three or four events.

Paddon is coming to the end of year two of his five-year plan. In that time he holds the ambition of becoming WRC world champion - last year he was world production class champion - and needs to earn a factory drive with one of the big teams to do it.

For that to happen, he needs to continue to set fast stage times, win stages and rallies and impress enough people of influence. He also needs to consistently drive smoothly.

"It's quite a funny feeling," he says. "Sometimes the stages you think are really good aren't - you are normally over-driving it - and often the ones that don't feel so good and feel a little bit slow are the good ones.

From a race driver's perspective, it's quite a hard concept to grasp, that to drive fast you have almost got to put in your mind that you have to drive slower, as confusing as that sounds. It's not something I have fully adapted to yet but I learn more every rally."

Paddon finishes his season this weekend at the Rally de Espana. A crash at last month's Rally France, when he was leading going into the final day, scuppered any chances of adding a second world title.

It was the latest incident in a frustrating year. He and co-driver John Kennard have won more than double the number of stages of any of their rivals in their Skoda Fabia and, apart from Sweden, the first rally of the series, have been the fastest Super 2000 world rally championship competitor on every rally.

"The speed has been there to win the championship, we just haven't had things fall our way," he says. "I guess sometimes, particularly in motorsport, you have to have a little bit of luck and the technical retirements we had in Finland and GB were very rare problems to have. It was bad luck.

"We haven't really been able to string together one good, solid rally but we have been able to show some good speed and set some good stage times. From that side of things, it's been encouraging and it certainly hasn't gone unnoticed.

"Some of the teams have been keeping an eye on our times and making comments in the paddock. There are always people watching in the background you are never really aware of until things happen. Things are starting to happen but we just need to keep putting in the performances."

Like all aspects of motorsport, sponsorship and funding are crucial.

Encouragingly, he's secured a special deal with WRC major players Red Bull, who are sponsoring Paddon and Kennard on a one-off basis this weekend in Spain. It makes this weekend's event particularly important, even though Paddon is out of the running for the championship, and he intends to go "flat out".

His plan for 2013 isn't entirely mapped out but he hopes to drive as many as four rallies in a WRC car (probably a customer one as opposed to a factory car) and then step up to the WRC proper in 2014.

"The next two to three years are going to be absolutely crucial to secure a factory seat," he says. "We have to get a factory seat to win the world championship."

- APNZ

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