Has Christmas come early for NZ’s finest

Finally! Some good news from Hyundai Motorsport about Hayden Paddon’s potential contract for the 2019 World Rally Championship season.

 

After weeks of speculation in the media and deafening silence from Hyundai itself, Paddon’s plans for next year look to be finally solidifying.

 

Nothing official has been announced yet, but Hyundai team manager, Alain Penasse, has given positive indications that the Kiwi will form a pivotal part of the squad next year.

 

“After Rally Australia (Paddon) is in pole position for the seat.

 

“There was talk about us talking to [Elfyn] Evans and [Craig] Breen, but this has not really gone any further,” he told Autosport.

 

“Hayden did everything we asked of him this season, he had a really good year.

 

“It’s difficult for Hayden to stay concentrated because of all this stuff about him losing his seat.

 

“I understand the media has a job to do, but, honestly, some people are making some things up and they even begin to believe their own stories!

 

“An example of this is our trip to Korea. We had this trip planned for months, to take 151 staff from Hyundai Motorsport out to see our colleagues in Korea. Then suddenly this has become some sort of debrief about the season.

 

“This is the normal life, but some people are wanting to make more of it.”

 

Again, nothing has been announced, but recent talk suggests that Paddon, Andreas Mikkelsen and Dani Sordo may all have similar programs next year – perhaps as many as 10 events each – although Hyundai team principal Michel Nandan has consistently talked of repeating this year’s split program between Sordo and Paddon.

 

“I feel we did a good job this year and tried our best to work with the team and make sure we brought home solid results on each rally,” Paddon said.

 

“The two rallies where there was a little less pressure to just finish, where we could focus on performance [in Portugal and Australia], we were mixing it at the front.

 

“That’s something I know we can do more regularly.”

 

Of the three part-timers currently without confirmed seats, Paddon seems to be at the head of the queue, in front of 2018 Citroen pilots Craig Breen and Mads Ostberg.

 

The only likely chance for the Irishman and the Norwegian appears to be with Malcolm Wilson’s M-Sport squad, but both would probably need to bring sponsorship money with them to secure a seat.

 

Talk of Hyundai chasing Sebastien Loeb to boost Thierry Neuville’s championship hopes seem to be only that, talk.

 

The Korean giant may have the budget to pay Loeb, but seeing the greatest of all time driving for anyone other than Citroen would come as a big surprise.

 

Penasse all but scuppered the idea in the media this week.

 

So, it’s good news for Paddon, who appears likely to be contesting the WRC again next season.

 

His first event will probably come in Sweden in February, rather than at the championship opener in Monte Carlo in January, but given recent speculation, surely he won’t be too concerned about that.

 

In equal machinery, he’ll again have the chance to out-shine his more high profile team-mates and push hard for his next WRC event win.

Peter Whitten

Peter has been the editor of RallySport Magazine since its inception in 1989, in both printed and online form. He is a long-time competitor, event organiser and official, as well as working in the media.

http://rallysportmag.com

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