Q&A: In-depth with Hayden Paddon

Hayden Paddon

Hayden Paddon

New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon took a major leap towards rally stardom by winning the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship today.

CLICK HERE for Speedcafe.com’s news story on Paddon’s dramatic and emotional win

The 24-year-old answered questions about his career and achievment following the conlcusion of Rally Australia.

QUESTION: Your achievement this season is mindblowing – a record four wins in four events competed in and 2011 PWRC Champion with two rounds to go. How does that feel?

HAYDON PADDON: I can’t believe it, it’s incredible! Rally Australia wasn’t an easy rally at all for us but we made it. Twelve months ago I was back home in New Zealand with no money, no sponsors and we didn’t even think we would be able to do the PWRC. We found the sponsors, we found a car and a team and now we’re here after a stunning year. And for sure there’s still a lot to come. We’ll try as hard as we can to come back next year in something bigger and better.

Q: You’ve also made history this weekend as the first driver from the Southern Hemisphere to win a WRC world title. How hard was it for you – a young Kiwi driver – to make your way into the World Rally Championship?

PADDON: It has definitely been hard. Possum Bourne was a rally legend in New Zealand for a long time and along with a lot of other people, I looked up to him and when he passed away rallying took a bit of a recession back home. There has never been a set pathway for Kiwi drivers to make their way to the WRC, so that has been the hardest thing. Also finding the budget has always been an issue, there are some big companies in New Zealand but with the global crisis it is hard to find financial back up.

Q: Until the start of this season you’d only competed on WRC events in a Mitsubishi, then at the start of this season you jumped to a Subaru and stormed through to take your first world title. How did this choice affect your performance?

PADDON: We were in a Mitsubishi for five years, so it was certainly a big decision to change to a Subaru! We made the decision without even driving the car, not seeing the car, we hadn’t even sat in the car, so it meant a few sleepless nights, but in the end it was the best decision. Subaru has been really supportive to us and they helped us to make the move – they make a big effort in the PWRC backing up teams and drivers. The Belgian team that is working with us – Symtech Racing – is very passionate and enthusiastic and they did a fantastic job this year. We still don’t have the car at 100% set-up but we are all still working on it and improving rally by rally.

Q: How did you first get involved in motorsport?

PADDON: My dad has been rallying since before I was born so I sort of grew up around rally cars and the passion started quite early. I started driving go-karts at six years old and achieved a few good results before I switched to cars when I was 12. I started competing with a Mini Leyland in events held in paddocks, or car parks, where you compete against the clock. At the same time I also started co-driving my dad in his Toyota Levin.

Q: When did you start rallying?

PADDON: I drove my first rally on my 15th birthday in my dad’s Toyota in the Ashley Forest rally sprint. After that I started competing more and more frequently, the results kept getting better and better and my career started from there.

Q: What’s been the highlight of your rally career so far?

PADDON: In terms of turning point probably Rally Australia in 2009 when we where ninth overall and we won the Pirelli Star Driver shoot out that obviously gave us a chance in the WRC last year. If we haven’t had this opportunity last year probably we wouldn’t be in the PWRC this year so that was a pretty big moment for us. The results we achieved this year have been a highlight too.

Q: How do you feel winning a place on the 2010 Pirelli Star Driver scheme helped your rally aspirations?

PADDON: It definitely helped me a lot. It was a big scholarship and without it we wouldn’t have been able financially to afford the PWRC last year. We got also a massive amount of experience on the Pirelli Star Driver scheme year as we worked with a new team and we competed in new events, on new roads. When we went back to some of those events this year it made a big difference having been there before. You need to be do these events a few times to master them. Last year gave us a sort of platform, this year we have been able to build on that and we want to continue progressing in the future.

Q: To win a world title, it is essential to have a strong relationship and complete trust between driver and co-driver. How did it change your career when you started to work with your current co-driver John Kennard?

PADDON: It is really good. John and I have been working together for six years now and the year we got him onborad was when we won the New Zealand Rally Championship in 2006. John had done a bit of team management and logistical work for the Subaru World Rally Team and worked with drivers like Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz so he had a lot of experience and he helped us a lot to reach this level. Working with John was a sort of fast track in my learning process, I learnt things like writing pacenotes, smaller things like driving a left-hand drive car and how to manage a rally as well. In the first two or three year with John there was a lot of learning and now the partnership has been consolidated and I hope it will continue for many years to come!

Q: It’s still early days, but what are your plans for 2012?

PADDON: I’m not sure yet. There’s a company back in New Zealand that has been funding a lot of what we have been doing this year with shareholders, which has been amazing. When we started 12 months ago we had no money, no sponsors and it was looking very unlikely that we would be able to do PWRC this year but then this company backed us and we started to have a lot of support from New Zealand and now we are all working on finding some funds to step up next year, maybe to a Super 2000 car. It’s a lot of money, so we are trying to find the corporate partners for this project.

Of course if the opportunity to drive a WRC car came along we wouldn’t turn it down but we are realistic and we know that if we get a change we are not going to be the fastest person straight away. To anyone that has been there it took at least a couple of seasons even to get to a stage winning pace so if it will happen we know we need to be patient.

Q: What are your hopes for your rallying career in the future?

PADDON: I want to be World Rally Champion, of course! It’s a very big goal, I know there is still a long way to go and sometimes it has got to do with what you know and the amount of money you have. From a driving point of view is something that I personally feel I can achieve and I will try really hard to do it. We have a five-year plan in place at the moment to try and get this and what I have to do now is give always 110% to make it happen.

Q: Is there anyone you would like to thank for their help in your rallying career?

PADDON: There are so many people! There are hundreds back home in New Zealand that have helped us over the years, all my sponsors, Subaru, my team Symtech Racing and obviously my dad, Chris, and the rest of the family. They have always been there for me over the years and enjoyed every moment of it. I don’t want to mention any names because there would be so many but I’m really grateful to everyone that has supported me through this years.

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