Friday, Nov 8 10:20am
AUTHOR: Simon Chapman

Hayden Paddon says WRC return “a long time coming”

In a week the FIA World Rally Championship will wrap up, but for Hayden Paddon, he’ll be hoping it’s just the start of more to come.

Paddon and co-driver John Kennard return to the top flight for the first time in exactly a year at next week’s Rally Australia.

It wasn’t long after last year’s de facto home rally that Paddon was unceremoniously dumped by Hyundai and left out in the cold for the lion’s share of the following season.

Fortunately, Paddon managed to strike a deal with the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team to return with a WRC drive at Rally Finland. As has been well documented, that didn’t happen.

Still buoyed by Paddon’s ability, the M-Sport outfit gave the Kiwi a second shot at Wales Rally GB in the WRC 2 ranks. Once again though he struck trouble and wasn’t in a competitive position.

With the WRC silly season in full swing, Paddon is in a position to prove himself, but as usual, he isn’t putting himself under pressure to perform.

“This feels like such a long time coming, and I’m really excited about getting back into action with a world rally car,” Paddon said.

“The key will be to stay relaxed. In this situation, it would be so easy to put too much pressure on myself, but I know from past situations that that doesn’t work.

“I’m a competitive person and will be pushing for a good result, but it would be unfair to put pressure on myself when it comes to securing a specific result – it’s just a case of taking it one step at a time.”

Rally Australia remains one of Paddon’s happy hunting grounds. Last year he claimed second place behind Jari-Matti Latvala, just 32.5 seconds adrift.

Despite the arid stages looking not much like his home, the routes following a similar flow to those in New Zealand. That’s something that Paddon is looking forward to.

“I’ve always enjoyed this rally and I think it’s the event I have the strongest record on,” he said.

“The second day’s stages are quite similar to those we have in New Zealand, and although the others are a little different I really do enjoy them all.

“The biggest challenge is the fact that I have been out of competition for the past 12 months. I know we can do a good job, but the unknown factor is at what level everyone else has increased since we’ve been away – so the goal is just to enjoy ourselves and do the best rally we can.”

As for 2020? Paddon, it would seem, is an option for M-Sport going into the new year. With rumours swirling that Elfyn Evans is on his way to Toyota to replace Ott Tänak, a seat may be his for the taking.

Gus Greensmith and Pontus Tidemand have been in and out of the team with Evans and Teemu Suninen the only proper fixtures at the team.

Rally Australia gets underway next weekend taking place over 14-17 November.


Photo: M-Sport