Kiwi rally star Hayden Paddon has likened the politics of the World Rally Championship to the glamorous, Hollywood-esque world of Formula 1 as he opens up on the merciless world of elite sport.
A poster child of New Zealand rallying, Paddon found himself without a drive in 2019 after a tumultuous two-year period with the factory Hyundai outfit despite having exited the 2018 WRC season with the knowledge he would be attained for another half-season deal which had him contest select rallies.
However, Paddon’s career took a turn for the worse when Hyundai opted to ink a deal with nine-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb less than one month from the opening rally, leaving the Kiwi with no available seat.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for Paddon who admitted being signed to Hyundai in 2014 was an incredibly surreal moment and an opportunity he had hoped to embrace.
“It was a definitely a pinch-yourself moment, to be signed for a factory team,” Paddon said in an interview with NewsTalkZB.
“That was always what we were aiming for but to start out from New Zealand it was like the equivalent of being an astronaut, it was so farfetched from what we were used to.
“But once we got it, it was an amazing experience but completely different. You go to a team of 250-300 people working on three cars, you are on the cutthroat edge of the sport, so there were no excuses and everyone had a job to perform.
“So it was pretty surreal, but you also get so caught up in the moment that you are just focusing on being competitive and doing the best you can.”
Paddon then went on to discuss the murky world of politics in elite sport, the ultimate downfall of countless athletes who often find themselves voiceless and vulnerable.
Interestingly, Paddon alluded to the popular Netflix show Drive to Survive which went behind-the-scenes of the infamously cut away world of Formula 1.
The show gave viewers an insight into the politics of the sport, and while former Kiwi racer Brendon Hartley is hardly seen in the show, Paddon suggested that Hartley’s F1 exit story and his WRC story were uncannily similar.
“Ah [WRC] is not that bad, a little bit more done to earth. Probably not as much as it used too though, so similar to Formula 1 in that respect.
“There is always good respect among the drivers between stages and events. But once you finished you are back on the plane and onto the next event. So, the old days of all the parties and shenanigans really don’t exist as much in rally as it does in F1.
“Brendon’s and my story in our last year over there are almost identical. I know Brendon and we have talked a bit about it in depth.
“At the end of the day I love driving, I still do, and I was very lucky to do what we did in the WRC…but the last couple of years the politics really took the gloss off it. There were so many things out of our control.
“And particularly when you are a Kiwi in that environment where our culture and ways of thinking are very different to Europeans and you have to try and adapt. You know as a Kiwi you want to all work together as a team and push towards the same results but over there you kind of have to stick to your own corner and just do your job which is drive.
“It was certainly hard to adapt to and took some gloss off it in the last year or two.”
Returning to New Zealand for the first time in eight years, Paddon has failed to let his passion for rally wither away while absent from the global scene.
Instead, he has become heavily invested with his own motorsports team based out of Highlands Motorsport Park with ambitions he believes will hopefully see them recreate an America’s Cup-winning accomplishment by competing on the world stage.
“The passion for driving and wanting to win is greater than it’s ever been but I wanted to do it with a Kiwi team.
“So, last year I moved back to NZ for the first time in 8 years and set up my own team here in Central Otago.
“Basically, we have got a 10-year goal to recreate the Team New Zealand of yachting in motorsport. So, in 10 years we want to be winning world rally championships with our own Kiwi team.
“We have seven people working here, so we are only small at the moment but of course we are building one of the world’s first EV rally cars, so we are trying put our mark on the map and think outside the box”
Earlier in the year, Paddon unveiled plans were afoot for a four-round return to the WRC with Hyundai New Zealand before the global pandemic but those goals on the backburner. It remains unknown when Paddon is hoping to return to the WRC but he has insisted it his his top priority.
Paddon will be out in action on November 14-15 with the City of Auckland Rally and Battle of Jacks Ridge which will showcase some of the stages that were set to be used for WRC’s return to New Zealand before the event was cancelled.