First and foremost, rally drivers want to win, despite what they say in public forums or in pre-event interviews.
This weekend at Wales Rally Great Britain, Hayden Paddon makes his WRC return at the wheel of Ford’s new Fiesta R5 MkII, and outside finishing, winning will be his main goal.
For sure, there are more things in play than that, and he’s competing against guys in the WRC2 Pro category who have much, much more experience in these cars than he does.
At the end of the day though, the Kiwi’s goal is on returning to the top level of the WRC in 2020, and impress he must.
His first ‘victim’, for want of a better term, will be his younger team-mate Gus Greensmith. The Brit has done much of the testing in the new R5 Fiesta and knows the car back to front.
He’s also done a few events in M-Sport’s World Rally Car now, and will be eyeing a more permanent seat in 2020 – one that Paddon is also targeting.
Then there’s a long list of experienced and successful WRC2 drivers to contend with ….. Skoda’s Kalle Rovanpera and Jan Kopecky; Citroen’s Mads Ostberg; young guns Pierre-Louis Loubet and Ole-Christian Veiby; and the even younger gun, 18 year-old Oliver Solberg.
Oh, and there’s a bloke starting down the field in a Volkswagen Polo GTI as well, also named Solberg, and the last person not named Sebastien to win the World Rally Championship!
Tough competition indeed.
Hayden has said all the right things in the lead up to the event, never overstating what he’s hoping to achieve, and always playing the ‘team’ line.
“This week we are competing in the WRC2 Pro class of Wales Rally GB with a lot of very fast drivers,” he said this week.
“As we saw at test, it will take some adapting with both pacenotes and driving style in the R5, but the priority this week is to enjoy ourselves, get some seat time and ultimately prepare for events ahead.
“We will, as always, give it 100% and look forward to working closely with the team.”
Playing the ‘team’ line is exactly what he should be doing too. It’s a far better outcome to over deliver than to under achieve, but most of us know that what’s said publicly in the media is often not the ‘real’ story.
At the moment, seat time is the most important thing for Hayden as he builds towards his long-overdue World Rally Car return in Australia next month, but for the moment that will be the furthest thing from his mind.
Battling the Welsh forests and their traditionally wet, muddy and slippery roads will be his sole focus.
This weekend’s result is certainly not a ‘make or break’ moment for Hayden’s WRC career, and while he won’t be taking a ‘win it or bin it’ approach, a strong finish will certainly help his cause moving forward towards 2020.
For the first time in years, those of us Down Under will be taking more of an interest in the R5 results than for the WRC cars.
We have three late nights ahead of us, glued to WRC+ or our phones as our favourite son goes into battle once again.
Bring it on!