A Shortened 2018 WRC schedule has seen Hayden Paddon seek solace in his home country’s ample rally calendar – beginning this weekend with the Dunedin Isuzu Otago NZRC Rally.As far as consolation prizes go, having the world-class 30-year-old, who now hails from Wanaka, leading out the 65-car New Zealand Rally Championship field is quite frankly WRC team Hyundai Motorsport’s loss and Kiwi rally fans’ gain.
Paddon will start as hot favourite in the NZRC event, after his Hyundai New Zealand i20 AP4+ blitzed the field by a record 9mins 22secs in 2016. Tauranga’s David Holder drove the same car to victory at Otago last year and for its six-event 2018 New Zealand season, Paddon’s crew has given it a ground-up rebuild.
He will be getting plenty of gravel kilometres in it, with his schedule following the Otago Rally including the NZRC rounds atWhangarei, South Canterbury, Coromandel and Rally New Zealand, as well September’s iconic Ashley Forest Rallysprint, near Christchurch.
“It’s about staying competition-fit; and while the events and car may be different, you cannot substitute being in a competition environment; Paddon said.
The Kiwi Hyundai i20 is quite different from its WRC counterpart and Paddon said he has to adjust accordingly, as “the AP4 is still a very good car but everything is a step down, from braking, transmission, engine etc” He has made no secret of the fact he’d rather be contesting all 13 WRC rounds, and while initially finding it frustrating that he will only drive in seven, he has “accepted it and is using it as fuel to the fire to get some good results this year; he said.
“Any professional sport is cut-throat, whether it is right or wrong is irrelevant. You have to deliver results, which for many reasons last year, many out of our control, we didn’t do. The lesson from that is quite simple – this year is flat out and deliver those results that I know we can.”
His international experience and outright speed position him as an expected winner on home-country turf, but Paddon has other aims as well.
“From my perspective, it’s about the enjoyment factor, developing our own NZ team and if we can bring a championship home while doing that, that would be great.The number-one priority is still the WRC, so we will use the NZRC rounds as preparation for what we are doing overseas”
It all starts with the Otago Rally, which Paddon is quick to proclaim as his favourite event.
What makes it so? “The roads and the atmosphere.Together with the classic rally it’s quite the spectacle with international competitors
There is such a variance also in the stages and they are some of the best roads in the world;’ he said.
Otago will also see Paddon reunite with his former co-driver of more than a decade, Blenheim’s John Kennard.
“I’m very pleased John can co-drive with me again in New Zealand – it’sjust like the good old days and he is also really looking forward to getting back in the car:’
The pair have won the Otago event five times and finished second once, making it one of their most successful New Zealand rallies.
Also in Paddon’s favour, is that he has many of his original crew still servicing and maintaining the car from his successful New Zealand rallying days, which saw him crowned national champion three times.
“The passion amongst our small team and their commitment is hard to not admire. It’s a really enjoyable environment, to be working with good friends as we strive for the same things this year”
One of the team’s ambitions, subject to funding, is the construction of a second Hyundai i20 AP4+ rally car, ideally before the 2019 season.
For now though, their focus is finely honed on this first round of the NZRC season, and Paddon will be able to welcome fellow WRC driver Mads Ostberg to Otago, where the Norwegian will be making his New Zealand debut in a Ford Escort RS1800.
It will be his first time driving a rear-wheel-drive car but Paddon rated Ostberg’s chances in the Otago International Classic Rally highly.
“He will love it. He enjoys driving cars sideways and will put on a good show, I’m sure. I think he will be hard to beat in the classic rally ”
Although Paddon did not directly speak to Ostberg about enticing him over here to rally – leaving that role to Kennard, who was instrumental in engaging the WRC star – he may have helped play a part.
“Of course, between John and me, we are always raving and talking to others overseas about the Otago Rally and New Zealand rallying in general,” Paddon said.
Source: Otago Daily Times