Motosport: Paddon's star keeps rising

By Eric Thompson

Outstanding rally driver Hayden Paddon celebrates the first win for a Kiwi at elite level. Photo / AP
Outstanding rally driver Hayden Paddon celebrates the first win for a Kiwi at elite level. Photo / AP

Hayden Paddon's first win at the elite level of rallying will not be a flash in the pan, nor will it be the dalliance of a one-hit wonder. The man from Geraldine has had a plan from the very start of his career and has never taken his eyes off the main prize - to win a WRC title.

He has been consistent in stating he's always wanted to be a world champion and had a series of goals right from the start: win the New Zealand Rally Championship; win the Pirelli Star Driver scholarship; win the Production World Rally Championship; win a stage in the WRC; and win a round of the WRC. The 29-year-old has ticked every one of those boxes.

After his win in the Rally of Argentina yesterday, he was at pains to say he hoped the victory was just going to be the first of a few this year. But his entire focus next year will be on winning the world title.

"We'll stick to our goals for this year and winning the championship isn't one for this year. That's next year's goal," Paddon said.

What's even more interesting is that Paddon actually drives for a second tier team. This is by no means showing any disrespect for Hyundai Motorsport, but Citroen, Ford and Volkswagen have a lot more money and motor racing history to throw at the sport.

The last time a second tier outfit won was back in 2010 when Sebastien Ogier won in Portugal with the Citroen Junior Team.

Paddon, in only his first full season in the WRC, beat three-time world champion Ogier, long-time rally stalwart Jari-Matti Latvala and regular podium finishers Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville.

Paddon recently signed a three-year deal to continue racing in a Hyundai WRC i20. Some of the higher profile teams were interested in signing the Kiwi, but Paddon was happy to stay with the South Korean manufacturer, who had taken a punt on him two years ago.

He has often stated he wants to emulate his rally hero Possum Bourne's loyalty to Subaru by sticking with Hyundai, who saw his potential. Team principal Michel Nandan was emphatic in his praise for Paddon after the race.

"This is a rally weekend that we will never forget," Nandan said. "Hayden has put in the performance of his career to take one of the most popular victories we've seen in WRC in recent times.

"His pace and commitment in the power stage was impressive; he and John [co-driver Kennard] both deserve this win."

Paddon has admitted the rallies on the Americas - Mexico and Argentina - aren't his favoured events and he's now looking forward to getting back to Europe, where he has had most of his success so far.

Rally Portugal (May 19-22) is first up, followed by Italy (June 9-12), Poland (July 1-3) and Finland (July 28-31); all of which he likes, especially Poland and Finland where the roads are similar to New Zealand, fast and flowing.

Yesterday, Paddon and Kennard headed off a late challenge from Ogier, Paddon contending with gearbox dramas on the final day, which allowed Ogier to chop the Kiwis' near half-minute lead to just 2.6s with only the power stage to go.

Not to be denied his maiden WRC rally win, Paddon threw everything at the legendary El Condor test and flew down the mountain in an incredible feat of car control to win the stage by a whopping 11.2s.

"That was a pretty amazing result that went down to the wire," Paddon told the Herald. "The biggest improvement has been our consistency and that helped a lot this weekend. We were consistently inside the top three all weekend and that was the key."

In winning Rally Argentina, Paddon and Kennard became the first New Zealanders and only the second pair from the Southern Hemisphere to win a WRC round in the 43 years the championship has been running. Argentina's Jorge Recalde is the other, having won his home rally in a Lancia in 1988 and again in 1995.

Kennard is also setting records as the oldest, at 57, co-driver to win a round.

"We're all absolutely over the moon and being second in the championship is a bonus," Paddon said. "We have to stay realistic though and we still have work to do ... Seb is still the fastest driver there is and he's the one we have to catch."

Paddon and Kennard are back in New Zealand next weekend for the International Rally of Whangarei.

- NZ Herald

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