In­ter­view: Hay­den Pad­don

New Zealand’s first WRC win­ner on Ar­gentina and his tri­umphant homecoming. By David Evans

Motor Sport News - - Headline News -

The Long White Cafe just out­side the ar­rivals area in Auck­land Air­port was do­ing an un­usu­ally keen trade given the hour.

The hour was shortly be­fore five in the morn­ing.

Be­ing a fan of the World Rally Cham­pi­onship in this part of the world means burn­ing the mid­night oil. For­tu­nately, Long Whites and Short Blacks were on of­fer from the 24-hour es­tab­lish­ment.

Cof­fee was great, but the real shot of adrenalin came ev­ery time the doors slid back to re­veal an­other tired-eyed trav­eller, deeply grate­ful to have ar­rived in the City of Sails. Trans-tas­man trips aside, it’s al­ways a hike to get to this point.

And it cer­tainly had been for the fans’ man, who has hopped across eight time zones to get home.

This ar­rival hall’s not un­ac­cus­tomed to lively re­cep­tions. But this time there’s no Richie Mccaw car­ry­ing a cup back from some far off, foreign land.

Not an All Black in sight. Just New Zealand’s lat­est sport­ing sen­sa­tions: Hay­den Pad­don and John Ken­nard, win­ners of round four of this year’s World Rally Cham­pi­onship: Rally Ar­gentina.

The cheers erupted when the Hyundai pair emerged and only stopped long enough for an im­promptu, pre-dawn haka.

“We ex­pected some­thing when we came out at the air­port,” Pad­don tells Mo­tor­sport News. “But noth­ing like that. That was definitely a great way to wake up. And the haka was re­ally cool. There must have been a cou­ple of hun­dred peo­ple wait­ing there. Amaz­ing.”

For­tu­nately, some­body had told them the re­turn of their king had been de­layed by a day.

Pad­don’s orig­i­nal plans were to be Pa­cific-bound out of Buenos Aires as soon as pos­si­ble af­ter Rally Ar­gentina. Win­ning changed all of that. A steady stream of in­ter­views fol­lowed a Sun­day night South Amer­i­can de­brief, but it was the chance to come to­gether as a team that the Ki­wis re­ally didn’t want to miss.

“It’s been 20 months since the last win,” says Pad­don. “And the team has worked so hard for this; ev­ery­body’s been flat-out on the new car and we’ve been on a pretty long road. Sun­day night was a night for John and I to be so­cia­ble.”

Pad­don’s prob­lem – and it’s one he won’t mind en­coun­ter­ing more of­ten – is that those cel­e­bra­tions im­pacted on his prepa­ra­tions for his next event: the Whangarei Rally.

Not con­tent with lay­ing the foun­da­tions for his maiden World Rally Cham­pi­onship, tar­geted some time this side of 2019, Pad­don’s also built his own team and rally car for the New Zealand and Asia Pa­cific Rally Cham­pi­onships. It was that i20 AP4 he was us­ing on the North Is­land roads. And grab­bing his bags at AKL, fully loaded with jet leg just over 48 hours out from the start of the Whangarei Rally, wasn’t ex­actly ideal.

“It was crazy af­ter we landed,” he says, “just manic with all the me­dia stuff. We ended up be­ing on tele­vi­sion chan­nels we’d never even heard of !”

There are few drivers as me­dia-savvy as Pad­don in the World Cham­pi­onship. It’s a nec­es­sary evil for a driver who has to of­fer a re­turn for the 70-odd in­vestors, the very folk that made it pos­si­ble for him to take that step up onto the top of the world in Villa Car­los Paz last month.

Even for him, his post-ar­gentina com­mit­ments were a bit busy.

“It was full-on. I’d say we did quadru­ple the amount of me­dia we nor­mally do,” Pad­don says. “But it was great. It was fan­tas­tic to see so many dif­fer­ent peo­ple in­ter­ested in what we were do­ing and what we’d achieved. It wasn’t just the reg­u­lar sports chan­nels and sports peo­ple ei­ther, it was news chan­nels that wanted to talk about Ar­gentina. It’s great for the sport in New Zealand. But I was definitely sur­prised at just how much in­ter­est there was.

“It wasn’t just in the me­dia, ei­ther. Just walk­ing down the road in Auck­land, peo­ple were com­ing over and say­ing ‘well done’. Peo­ple who don’t re­ally know what mo­tor­sport is have been recog­nis­ing us in the street. It’s been pretty un­real.”

But come Satur­day morn­ing, Pad­don was back where he be­longs.

“Hon­estly, that was about the first time we got a break,” he says. “When John and I got in the car to go out to the first stage, that was when we got a mo­ment to stop and think about things.”

And re­flect­ing on things meant go­ing over that fi­nal-stage dash down the road known as El Con­dor. The one where he took a quite as­ton­ish­ing 11.7 sec­onds out of triple world cham­pion Se­bastien Ogier, se­cur­ing his first win.

Pad­don: “The key was not wor­ry­ing about how rough it was – and it was pretty rough in places – and just get­ting on and driv­ing as neat and tidy as I could. There were some small mis­takes…” Small mis­takes? Se­ri­ously? “Yeah, but that’s me: al­ways look­ing at the neg­a­tives and try­ing to find ways that I could have gone quicker,” he adds.

Head­ing north of Auck­land, Pad­don was on a hat-trick, hav­ing won the Otago Rally just be­fore Ar­gentina. Un­for­tu­nately, he missed out on the win cour­tesy of some transmission prob­lems aboard his Hyundai NZ car.

No mat­ter. Pad­don’s won there be­fore. Com­pet­ing reg­u­larly at home laid the foun­da­tions for his ca­reer.

“We had to build up step by step,” says Pad­don. “We didn’t have the money to jump ahead two or three steps at a time. But I think that helps. We’ve al­ways had a plan, al­ways had a tar­get and apart from 2012 – when we missed out on the SWRC ti­tle – we have al­ways achieved our tar­get. Al­ways ticked the box.” The next box is the big one. “When I signed for Hyundai,” he says, “I said I wanted to be world cham­pion in the next three years. That hasn’t changed.”

The fo­cus re­turns to Europe. By the time you read this, Pad­don will be back to his se­cond home in Frank­furt. The team is test­ing this week, try­ing to find more re­spon­sive­ness from the rear of his New Gen­er­a­tion i20 WRC in slow-to-medium-speed cor­ners.

Pad­don’s ob­ses­sive about driv­ing his ca­reer for­ward, and break­ing his WRC duck is not about to change that.

And next time he’s home, he’s got the big wel­come to come. He was so busy when he landed in NZ, he didn’t have time to dash across the Cook Strait to the South Is­land and his home­town of Geral­dine. Don’t worry, not just Geral­dine, the whole of Can­ter­bury won’t for­get. It’ll be wait­ing for the fastest and most fa­mous thing with­out a rugby shirt. ■

Pho­tos: Euan Cameron, mck­lein­im­age­

Pad­don’s own APRC i20

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