It was the news we were all dreading, and even now it seems a little surreal, but Hayden Paddon’s omission from Hyundai’s 2019 WRC plans leaves a huge hole ‘down under’.
The longer things went on, the more likely it seemed that Paddon’s time with the Korean make had come to an end in the WRC – but that neither makes if understandable or fair.
“We couldn’t find an agreement that worked for both of us,” Paddon has since said.
“After the signing of Sebastien Loeb we’ve been left high and dry.”
And all this after several months of discussions with the team and, despite rumours to the contrary, none with any other manufacturers.
“The last few months have been mentally very difficult. There have been many discussions in the background, we were promised and told many things which haven’t come to fruition.
“We were made aware of the Sebastien Loeb decision and after that we were offered just one rally, which in everyone’s best interests – that’s not an option for us.”
I’ve discussed Loeb’s signing separately, and how it seems to be a ‘cry for help’ from Hyundai as they strive for that elusive Manufacturers’ title that has eluded them since they entered the WRC in 2014.
On one hand it seems a smart move to sign a nine-time World Champion to your team, but on the other, what does this say about your current driver line-up?
Clearly Paddon was far from the worst of the team’s performers in 2018. In fact it has been mentioned online that his former team-mate, Andreas Mikkelsen, may even have taken legal action to ensure that he retained his seat next year.
Whether that’s the case or not is now water under the bridge, and Hayden Paddon is already looking to the next phase of his career and what that may hold for him.
“Naturally we are very disappointed, but at the same time understand that can be the reality of professional sport. We can be proud of what we achieved and hold our head high,” he said.
“We were always told it was impossible for a Kiwi to be in the WRC. Not only did we get there, we won a rally and have eight podiums – some nice success that we can reflect on and was not possible without the belief and help of so many people in NZ.
“Of course, I feel like we could have achieved more, but you can’t spend life reflecting on the ‘what ifs’.”
What the future holds is yet to be unveiled, and this journalist has purposely left Paddon well and truly alone since the announcement. He’s got enough on his plate without everyone pushing him for plans that are probably still to come to fruition.
It will certainly mean an entry in his favourite Otago Rally in April, and possible at the Rally of Whangarei three weeks later. It could also mean an Asia Pacific Rally Championship assault that could include one or two events in Australia, followed by the final in India at the end of the year.
There’s also a good chance of some other ‘one-off’ type events.
“I’m a sucker for a record,” Paddon told me at Rally Australia in November.
“If there’s a record there, I want to break it – it’s something that has a real pull for me.”
Ashley Forest Rallysprint? Pikes Peak? Who knows.
What we do know is that we haven’t seen the last of Hayden Paddon, and every rally fan south of the equator – and thousands more north of it – will be glad of that.