Motorsport: Paddon driven to succeed at top level

By Daniel Richardson

Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon.
Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon.

Hayden Paddon describes himself as competitive, making it harder for him to limit expectations as he ponders his debut campaign in the World Rally Championship.

The 26-year-old from Geraldine knows he won't be popping champagne corks celebrating wins during his first year on the circuit, which starts with June's Rally Italia Sardegna in Italy. He has been given seven starts in Hyundai's third car for the season, which has been done with an eye to developing a younger driver. But part of stepping up to this level means Paddon has to be aware of what he can expect to achieve.

"I'm a pretty competitive person and, to start with, we are not going to be winning and it's just about being realistic with the goals and actually being able to take that step back and not get too discouraged by the times," Paddon says from Frankfurt, where the Hyundai team is based. "As we move forward, as we found out in Spain last year, it is a step up in commitment."

Spain is where Paddon was given an opportunity to contest the Rally de Catalunya with the M-Sport World Rally Team, eventually finishing eighth.

It's an indication of Paddon's belief in his ability that he was disappointed with that even though he was racing the world's best drivers. It also provided a reality check.

"We are up against experienced drivers and history shows that most drivers who come in to a World Rally car for the first time don't often hit their stride until maybe the second year, sometimes even the third year, just because it is such a big experience."

It's a tricky balancing act because Paddon needs to impress his bosses enough to ensure he's retained beyond 2014.

"I think the biggest thing is we show progression, rally to rally, until the end of the year," he says.

The next few months will be busy as Paddon builds towards his first start in Italy. He has to learn more about his car, run through testing and continue to slog through his daily three-hour gym sessions.

"It's not as simple as turning the steering wheel. There is a bit of pressure on the body and there's the heat," he says.

He has set up camp in Germany with his partner after spending the past few years living out of a suitcase and says June can't come soon enough.

Paddon recently spent time in Mexico, where he drove reconnaissance at the WRC event, and he will continue to work with long-time co-driver John Kennard this year. Before he gets in the car in June, he will return to New Zealand to race here and then it will be on to the sport's biggest stage.

His opportunity in the WRC has been a long time coming.

He's shown great potential as a driver but has constantly had to battle with a lack of funding.

Now he can focus solely on driving. In the past, he's also had to be mindful of keeping his car in good nick but Paddon is entering a different realm, with Hyundai's budget reported to be around 80 million a year.

"We'll be given all the resources to do what we need to do, so it takes a huge amount of pressure off. But now we are in this position, we have to make the most of it."

He's a pioneer, the first Kiwi to earn a regular drive on the WRC circuit - but it might take time before New Zealanders can celebrate their first WRC champion.

- APNZ

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