Hayden Paddon has once again made New Zealand motorsport history, this time with his first-ever rally victory in the FIA World Rally Championship at the 22-24 April running of Rally Argentina.
With long-time co-driver John Kennard, Paddon secured a hard-fought victory on the notoriously rough roads of the Argentinean rally with a commanding performance in the final special stage to best three-time WRC drivers’ champion Sebastien Ogier. Sunday’s tense battle came after Paddon and Kennard has scored their 11th WRC stage win on Friday – to match the total set by the late, great Kiwi rally star Possum Bourne – and, with three more stage wins to their credit on Saturday, the pair went into the final short day with a lead of 29.8 seconds over Ogier.
The first fog-affected run through El Condor saw Ogier take 7.4 seconds out of Paddon’s lead as Paddon lost precious seconds with a gear-change issue. On special stage 17 Ogier delivered a blistering run which cut Paddon’s lead to a mere 2.6 seconds with just the final power stage to go. But Paddon stood up to the Frenchman’s challenge, saying he drove the wheels off his new generation Hyundai 120 WRC car to secure not only his first power stage win, but also his debut WRC rally win.
“It’s an amazing feeling, to win like this, on the last stage where the odds were a little bit against us,” said Paddon at the rally finish. “We lost a lot of time in the previous stage and just over two seconds margin going into that last one – I didn’t have a lot of confidence, but we just pushed like hell.
“A huge amount of work has gone into the New Generation i20 WRC. I knew from the first test that we could win with it. I just didn’t quite expect it to be so soon. Everyone in the team, at the rallies and at Alzenau, thoroughly deserves this result. I am sure it’s the start of a lot more to come! I am thankful for everyone who has supported us back home in New Zealand and for all the positive messages we’ve received this weekend.”
During his history-making weekend of competition, Paddon won five WRC stages in all, bringing his total WRC stage victories to 15. He’s the second driver from the Southern Hemisphere to win a WRC round (the first being Argentina’s Jorge Recalde who won his home rally in a Lancia in 1988 and in again in a drivers-only round in 1995). The event victory gives Paddon’s team, Hyundai Motorsport, its first win on a gravel event with Paddon’s team-mate Thierry Neuville having delivered the only other WRC event win for Hyundai on the German tarmac in 2014. It’s also the first win in the new generation Hyundai i20 WRC car in only its fourth outing.
MotorSport New Zealand president Shayne Harris celebrated the news of Paddon and Kennard’s success. “I think the main thing for me is how great is this for Hayden and John. They have worked really hard to get this, right from Hayden’s own vision for his career in motorsport which included MotorSport New Zealand’s Elite Academy. For New Zealand motorsport as a whole, it is fantastic to see our guys at the top of world rallying. I am sure other young Kiwi rally competitors will take notice and follow in their footsteps.”
Harris adds: “I hope the result signals to the WRC organisers that the New Zealand round deserves to be reinstated on the WRC calendar. This is something I know Hayden, John and tens of thousands of Kiwi rally fans want to happen.”
Peter Johnston, chairman of Rally New Zealand, was equally delighted to see Paddon and Kennard on the top step of the podium.
“What a fantastic result for Hayden and John and everyone who’s been part of their journey to the top of world rallying. Every sport has its heroes and for rallying in New Zealand we have a hero in Hayden Paddon.
Johnston adds: “Everyone at Rally New Zealand congratulates and are very proud of Hayden and John’s achievement. We look forward to working with Hayden as the official rally ambassador of Rally New Zealand to bring the World Rally Championship back to New Zealand in the not-too-distant future.”
Morrie Chandler, former chairman of Rally New Zealand and currently the FIA Vice-President (Sport) and an FIA Steward at WRC events, comments: “Hayden rose to the top of our sport through his own personal effort, dedication and commitment to taking the opportunities such as those created by the worldwide Pirelli Star Driver programme, an FIA imitative which created a global competition to bring upcoming drivers to the top level of the sport. Hayden has a clear focus on where he is heading and the commitment he needs to progress. He is also sponsor and team-focused and is clearly a star of the not too distant future. My congratulations to Hayden and John on their fantastic result in Argentina.”
The Argentinean victory means Paddon, originally from Geraldine and now based in Europe, now holds second place in the WRC drivers’ championship with 57 points to Ogier’s 96 – the highest-ever championship position for a Kiwi rally driver to date.
Whilst currently competing in the WRC in the first year of their three-year contract with Hyundai Motorsport, Paddon and Kennard have not forgotten their New Zealand roots. A partnership with Hyundai New Zealand has already seen the pair secure a record-breaking victory in the Rally of Otago (9-10 April) in a brand-new, New Zealand-built Hyundai i20 rally car, the chassis of which is built to the new Asia Pacific (AP4) rally car regulations jointly designed by Motorsport New Zealand and the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS).
The Kiwi WRC stars return to New Zealand immediately after Rally Argentina to compete in the International Rally of Whangarei (29 April – 1 May) and are sure to attract many thousands of spectators to the event, which is the second round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship as well as a round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship.