At last New Zealand has a driver competing in a factory car in the top class of the World Rally Championship. Hayden Paddon, from Geraldine in South Canterbury, made his works WRC debut in June driving a Hyundai i20 in Rally Italy, which took place on the island of Sardinia.
Reaching the top level of world rallying is extremely resources. Paddon has had to prove his speed and determination at every stage along the way, which has included winning New Zealand championships and the Production World Rally Championship.
Fortunately for Paddon, the WRC is in a strong position now, with Hyundai joining Citroen and Volkswagen in running factory teams, and private teams running Fords. The increase in the number of works cars had brought the need for more drivers, which enabled Paddon to find a place with Hyundai.
Paddon had had one outing in a WRC car before this season, campaigning a Ford Fiesta for the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team in the penultimate round of the 2013 championship. He and long-time co-driver in eighth place.
His debut as a factory WRC driver came at an event he had not contested before, so he was not familiar with the Sardinian stages, or even the general conditions. He said it turned out to be one of the most difficult events he had competed on for the first time.
“Coming into the event our target was to learn and gain miles – which we did,” Paddon said. “However, I completely underestimated the challenge of these very technical roads, which reflected in the average pace notes written from recce. This then made it difficult for the whole weekend.
“Throughout the three days of the rally we made small improvements and learnt a lot. Most important, we completed most of the stages, and now have a lot of data that we can study. So we can now improve for our next events.”
One of Paddon’s strengths as a driver is that he very seldom crashes; he can go very fast while keeping within the limits of his car’s abilities. In Sardinia he kept the Hyundai on the road in very tricky conditions, but suffered two setbacks: a puncture on day one that cost a minute, and a misfire on day two after going through a ford. The team told him to stop the car and they fixed it overnight.
Under current rules, he was able to restart on day
three, with a 10 minute penalty for not finishing the second day. He was officially classified as 12th – and scored Hyundai’s first championship points for the season.
Experience of the event was essential for getting the best out of the car, Paddon found, so his lack of experience was quite a handicap. But the final day included one stage that was new to the rally, so it was more of a level playing field, and the
This is the first year of Hyundai’s return to the WRC (they had a largely unsuccessful campaign some years ago) and the German-based team say they regard this as a learning season while they develop the i20 and gather data on the various rallies.
The team also includes the more experienced Thierry Neuville, whom Paddon regards as his benchmark. “On average we were 0.75 seconds per km behind Thierry on the stages, and sometimes as low as 0.5,” Padon said. “So this is pleasing, and this is a gap that we will look to close on the upcoming events, which I’m confident we can do.”
World champion Sebastien Ogier (France) won the rally in Sardinia in his Volkswagen Polo. Team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala (Finland) had held a big lead on day two, but hit a rock – one of the dangers on this event – and lost two minutes while he stopped to change a damaged wheel.
Latvala recovered to finish third, with Citroen’s Mads Ostberg (Norway) second, his best finish. Ford driver Mikko Hirvonen exited the event in spectacular style on day one when his car caught fire and was destroyed.
Paddon has been competing in motor sport since he was six, when his father Chris – himself a rally driver who enjoyed some success – built him a kart powered by a lawnmower engine.
Faster karts followed, and he was soon a front-runner in Canterbury competitions. At 13 he got his first car, an old Mini, and developed that himself, learning valuable mechanical skills and enjoying great success in gymkhanas. He started co-driving for his father on rallies, and on his 15th birthday entered the Ashley Forest Rally Sprint.
The Whangarei Rally of 2007 brought the first big breakthrough – it was a round of both the New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific championships, and
The next year he missed the NZ championship by a single point, but 2009 brought his first NZ championship and also the Pacific Cup. He also won the Pacific Pirelli Star Driver award, which gave him a fully-funded drive in the 2010 Production World Rally Championship in a Mitsubishi. Paddon won the New Zealand round, and with other podium finishes ended the season third in the PWRC.
Wanting to return to the PWRC but suffering a sadly depleted bank balance, Paddon and his followers formed Hayden Paddon Rallysport Global Ltd, which raised the large amounts of cash necessary for a world
driving a Subaru.
For the next two seasons they moved up to an S2000 car (also known as WRC2), which is similar to a full WRC car but with less power. They achieved more successes in a Skoda Fabia, and that helped pave the way for the Hyundai WRC drive. Last year they also won their home championship again, in a Mitsubishi, despite missing two rounds because of their international commitments.
Meanwhile, in New Zealand this year, former champions Richard and Sara Mason, a married couple from Masterton, are running away with the national series after winning the first three rounds in their Subaru WRX STI. The third round, in Canterbury, saw the Masons start the main day in second place as Nelson’s Ben Hunt in another Subaru had won the two night-time stages on Saturday evening and led by 14 seconds.
But in the daylight on Sunday, running over public roads in the Cheviot area of North Canterbury, the Masons won five of the six stages to beat Hunt home by more than a minute. David Holder was third in a Mitsubish, i and Lance Williams fourth in another Subaru. Mason then led Williams by 68 points with three rounds to go, and looks well set for his fifth national championship.
The rules for the series have been opened up to
Emma Gilmour’s Suzuki Swift, which has been totally rebuilt to make it a bigger car with a turbo engine and, of course, four-wheel-drive. The Super-Swift has been quick but has not yet won a rally.
Dunedin-based Gilmour is also competing internationally and, like Hayden Paddon, she is driving a Hyundai. She is running in the Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship, driving a Veloster for the team run by Rhys Millen, the son of expat
Round one was in Barbados and round two at the X Games in Austin, Texas. Rallycross is contested on circuits containing both sealed and dirt sections, usually with some big jumps.
At Austin Emma was pleased to make it through to the semi-finals, while many more-experienced competitors ran into strife.
“It was such an unbelievable experience to make the semis at the X Games,” Gilmour said. “There was a lot of carnage going on around me, but basically I just kept it clean and made it through. The drivers were just desperately trying to be the first into the first corner, and there was no room for more than two cars, which caused the bottleneck crashes.”
The winner was former Formula One driver Scott Speed, who was also victorious in the opening round in Barbados.
Hayden Paddon in action on the Sardinian rally, where loose rocks were a worry for the drivers. By Bernard Carpinter.
A winning team -- husband-and-wife team Richard (right) and Sara Mason celebrate winning the 2014 Canterbury Rally. Photo Geoff Ridder.
Emma Gilmour and her much-modified Suzuki Swift
Richard and Sara Mason on their way to victory in the Canterbury Rally. Photo Geoff Ridder.
Sara and Richard Mason celebrate victory in the Canterbury Rally. Photo Geoff Ridder.