Hayden Paddon will return to the World Rally Championship with a start in next month’s Rally Finland in an M-Sport Ford.
The agreement comes after Paddon was overlooked by his former team, Hyundai World Rally Team, which ultimately signed Craig Breen to solve its driver shortage for Round 9 of the World Rally Championship.
Despite admitting to being ‘upset’ by what he claimed to be a complete snub from the Alzenau outfit, Paddon’s M-Sport drive comes with the blessing of the New Zealand arm of Hyundai, which continues to support him.
“Obviously I’m very excited to be back in the WRC,” said the Canterbury native.
“It has been really hard sitting at home watching the WRC unfold this year, especially as I know we can deliver at a high level.
“After the Hyundai Motorsport news last week, we decided to make things happen as we are not going to achieve anything by sitting around.”
“Firstly, huge thanks to the team at Hyundai New Zealand who continue to support me fully. For them to have allowed us to chase this opportunity – it speaks volumes of how much they support my career and aspirations. It is truly humbling.
“And thank you to everyone who has contributed financially to make this drive with M-Sport possible.
“Many of our existing shareholders in Hayden Paddon Rallysport Global (HPRG) have come back onboard to make this happen and in a very short space of time. It’s amazing.”
Hyundai New Zealand General Manager Andy Sinclair said that representing New Zealand on the world stage was more important than him crossing marques to drive a Fiesta.
“As soon as the opportunity arose to drive for M-Sport at Rally Finland, Hayden sought our opinion. Naturally we were thrilled for him that he was offered a WRC drive, and it went without saying that we’d support him,” said Sinclair.
“Hayden is a Hyundai NZ driver and ambassador, and most importantly, he is representing New Zealand, which means more to us than what model of car he is driving.
“As a 100 per cent Kiwi-owned company, our decision to support a New Zealand sportsperson of Hayden’s calibre is easy.”
Paddon will take pace notes from his former WRC co-driver John Kennard for the Finland event, which he has driven in every year since 2010.
The 32-year-old is set to join Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen in M-Sport’s line-up, in the third entry which has run at a handful of rallies so far in 2019.
“It’s great to see Hayden back in the FIA World Rally Championship, and we’re all excited to see what he can do behind the wheel of the Fiesta,” said M-Sport team principal Richard Millener.
“He’s a proven rally winner, and it’s great for us to have a driver of his calibre as we set our sights on another strong performance.”
Paddon will have a one-day test in a Fiesta WRC before the event, and hopes that the drive precipitates a permanent return to WRC next year.
“My thanks also to the M-Sport team who have been able to put this deal together for us in a matter of days,” he said.
“We will be giving the rally 110 per cent. Obviously being out of WRC competition for eight months puts us a little on the back foot, but both John and I are confident we can hop in, prepare well and be near the front.
“A top five would be the minimum expectation from myself but as always, I will be pushing for more.
“The ultimate goal is to be back in the WRC more regularly in 2020.
“I’m in a good phase at the moment; I feel like from a personal perspective and in terms of driving ability, things are at a good level and I want to utilise those skills again at the highest levels of world competition.”
Rally Finland takes place from August 1-4.