Hayden Paddon has World Rally Championship title in sights

Kiwi WRC driver Hayden Paddon. Photo / Timo Anis.
Kiwi WRC driver Hayden Paddon. Photo / Timo Anis.

AS Hayden Paddon blasts along twisting dirt tracks outside Coffs Harbour this week the steely-eyed Kiwi driver is rocketing his way to the World Rally Championship.

Not this year and maybe not the next, he reckons, but he's in with a big shot for 2018.

With 230kw under the hood, his hot little Hyundai i20 can accelerate from rest to 100km/h in 3.5 seconds, faster than many Porsches and with 15 years of rally driving he is ready to overtake the leading WRC drivers.

He and veteran co-driver John Kennard are running fourth in this year's world championship behind three-time champ Sebastien Ogier, of France, whose Volkswagen Polo has an unassailable title lead.

But for Paddon, 29, the race has just started.

Rocked by the worldwide emissions scandal, Volkswagen are withdrawing from the WRC next year meaning many drivers will be fighting for new contracts and there will be a reshuffle for a new world order.

"We are going about things step by step and sticking to our plan," Paddon said. "I think 2017 is still too early but we will be giving it everything. We are targeting 2018 to fight for the championship."

The Coffs coast this week will play host to some of the world's great drivers in the Formula One of gravel.
Seventy cars will be roaring and sliding through the bush.

The event will represent the 13th and final round of the 2016 FIA World Rally Championship and the final rounds of the Australian Rally Championship.

Paddon's father Chris was a rally driver, and the Kiwi ace competed in his first rally at 15.

"My father was driving before I was born and I was brought up around rallying since I was a kid," he said.

"As soon as I could drive, I would. At six I started in go-karts and then got my first car, a Mini, when I was 12. Then we went through each step and level of rallying. New Zealand roads are the best in the world - fast, flowing, smooth and 'real' drivers' roads."

Conditions on a narrow dirt track are constantly changing and usually hazardous so Paddon and his rivals need quick reflexes.

Paddon said the course around Coffs Harbour was "generally smoother and more flowing" than the roads he began on in New Zealand and came "with a heavy covering of gravel".

This year the World Rally Championship has taken drivers to Monte Carlo, Sweden, Mexico, Argentina, Portugal, Sardinia, Poland, Finland, Germany, China, France, Spain and Wales.

In April Paddon took his - and New Zealand's - first WRC win by 13.3sec from Ogier at Rally Argentina in Villa Carlos Paz, Cordoba.

Kennard became the oldest co-driver to win a WRC round at 57.

Paddon said it was a "special moment" in his career not just because he beat the long-reigning world champion but because some of the arduous stages in Argentina "are very tough - a big challenge" as are the long, hot, gruelling stages in Sardenga on Sardinia.

His name was added to the Argentine trophy along with great names of motor racing as Sebastien Loeb and Carlos Sainz.

Ogier has won the Coffs Harbor leg of the world championship for the last three years and is coming off a victory in the Great Britain leg of the WRC in Wales two weeks ago.

Paddon just missed out on a podium finish there for the second event in a row.

He is driving hard to finish the year in a victory cloud of gravel and said he could still improve his driving in "every area".

"We are always learning and to win at this level you are almost looking for perfection," he said.

- news.com.au

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