PADDON EYES 2017 TITLE PUSH
New Zealander takes breakthrough WRC victory and now wants more
Hayden Paddon has targeted a 2017 title push after scoring his first overall world championship victory on last weekend’s Rally Argentina.
After heading off Sebastien Ogier for the rally win – beating the Frenchman by 11.2s on the final stage and 14.3s overall – the Kiwi believes talk of a 2016 title push is premature. The win moves him into second in the championship, but still 39 points behind treble champion Ogier in the standings.
“I think it’s a bit early to start talking about the championship,” he said. “The plan was always to win rallies this year and look for the title next season. I’m realistic enough to know that, right now, we probably don’t have the ultimate speed for Seb. OK, I would probably back myself on some of the fast rallies, but I can’t just rely on fast rallies or gravel rallies. Tarmac’s a big thing for me, it’s an area I want to work on and I need to work on.”
It’s not just Paddon and co-driver John Kennard who are getting quicker either, the i20 WRC is evolving all the time, with suspension improvements coming in time for Portugal and possibly a mid-season engine upgrade.
“We need to keep the rear of the car in-line a bit more,” said Paddon. “That’s a key area and something we have struggled with since we’ve had the new car. If we can get on top of that then we’ll find a lot more speed and I know I can drive it a lot faster as well.”
Hyundai team principal Michel Nandan confirmed the Germanbased team is working hard to improve the new car. “We are working on the suspension and differential,” he explained. “Already since Mexico, we made a good step here on suspension and dampers. We have some other things in testing next week and the following week – I think we are going in the right direction. I think we can get more performance.
“As well as that, we are working on the engine and maybe there are some changes to come. We are working on the test bed at the moment and if it’s valuable then we will do it.”
Nandan paid tribute to Paddon in landing the team’s first ‘proper’ win. Hyundai’s previous victory came from Thierry Neuville after Volkswagen’s Ogier and JariMatti Latvala and Citroen’s Kris Meeke all crashed out of the 2014 Rally Germany.
“This is a proper victory, we showed the car is improved, and now the times are really close to
the Volkswagen,” said Nandan. “This shows we are closer and now we are able to fight. It’s good for the team and it’s good for the car. This is only the fourth rally for the new car and now we win. This could be a good push for us for the future.
“It’s also a good push for Hayden and John. When we saw the time from Sebastien in Mina Clavero, we thought it could be tough, but we never stopped believing that they could do it. But, honestly, I don’t think anybody thought they could do it in this way. It was incredible. Fantastic. It’s very good for Hayden as well. He’s such a professional guy, working so hard all the time and trying to improve in everything he does. This is good for him. After all of that work, he can look at himself and say: ‘I can do it’. And he can.”
Kennard’s first win comes after more than three decades in the sport. He said: “We really didn’t have much expectation from this rally at all – maybe that’s the key! Hayden works so hard in this sport, he really deserves it.”
Paddon admitted his progression to the top of the WRC has taken longer than is currently fashionable – but that doing it his own way has made it satisfying.
“I started slowly,” he said, “building up and competing at home [New Zealand]. Then winning the Pirelli Star Driver in 2009 gave us six WRC rounds in 2010 and that was definitely a big turning point.
“These days, young guys come in, jump straight in the big cars and want to win immediately, but they end up crashing and then maybe running out of money. We took our time and when it got tough, we found 70-odd people to invest in us and back me.
“But, through all of the tough times, I never lost sight of getting to this point and winning this first rally. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Paddon credited two of his heroes with helping him along to his groundbreaking achievement. Possum Bourne, who blazed a trail for Kiwi rally drivers, and 1995 World Rally champion Colin Mcrae are both heroes for Paddon.
“Possum was a role model for me,” added Paddon. “He showed that you could come from New Zealand and go overseas and be very successful. Colin was the inspiration for me to want to be world champion.
“I wasn’t lucky enough to know Colin personally, but I know the family a little bit now. For me, it was that blue Group A car [Subaru Impreza 555] that both Colin and Possum were associated with. I loved that car. I never forget the day I met Colin at Rally New Zealand, I was 12 years old and I got his autograph. I’d been standing on the road section on Friday morning with this big sign I made: ‘Go Colin!’ He was my hero and I’ve watched that video of him winning the title in 1995 over and over. To be a rally winner like Colin was, is very special.”
The WRC heads to Portugal next, where Paddon has only competed once in a world rally car. Ogier has won the four times, while Jari-matti Latvala won in 2015.