Is it really possible that next month’s Rally Australia might be Hayden Paddon’s final drive in a World Rally Car?
It seems highly unlikely, particularly with Rally New Zealand on the WRC calendar again in 2020, but the Kiwi favourite is realistic enough to know that nothing is guaranteed.
“I’m not even thinking about 2020 yet,” he stresses.
“Of course I would like to be driving next year, but there is so much out of my control.
“Naturally, we will try and have a good result in Australia, but we’re not putting any pressure of 2020 on us for that contract.
“You never know, this could be my last rally in a WRC car.
“As we saw 12 months ago, you never know what can happen. So for that reason, it’s important we enjoy the rally too.”
The likelihood of Paddon not driving a World Rally Car at home next September seems about as unlikely as Australia beating the All Blacks to the next World Cup.
It might still be 10 months away, but what WRC team manager in their right mind wouldn’t want Paddon driving for him on the one event in the world where he starts with a massive advantage over his opponents?
Many of the WRC regulars are virgins of the smooth, cambered New Zealand roads, and of those who aren’t – such as Ogier, Tanak and Sordo – their memories will be eight years old and buried deep in their brains.
It might means the ‘great Kiwi hope’ could have the pick of any factory seat he wants next year, although there are clearly more things at play than picking just which car he’d like to drive.
Hyundai would be the obvious choice, but the relationship there seems to be a little fractured after the way Paddon was treated at the end of last season.
His close association with Hyundai New Zealand may also mean that seeing him driving anything other than an i20 WRC on home ground is simply not going to happen.
For now though, it’s all about the present and getting ready for Rally Australia, where he finished a brilliant second last year in really tough conditions;
The final day of the rally was extremely wet, and while WRC favourite Ott Tanak crashed out, Paddon showed his class to finish on the podium.
His only day of testing in the M-Sport Fiesta World Rally Car before Rally Australia came in Spain last week, and he was happy with the results.
“We did one day in Spain with the WRC car in prep for Australia,” he says.
“Immediately the car felt good from the outset. They (M-Sport) have a lot of experience with the car and it is well developed, so this makes me confident and comfortable going into Rally Australia.”
A top three result, let alone a top five finish, won’t be easy though. It’s unlikely that you can just step back in to a WRC car after 12 months and expect to be on the pace of the Tanaks, the Ogiers and the Neuvilles.
He’ll be trying though, and it will be fascinating to watch it live from the sidelines – or on WRC+ if you’re back home in New Zealand.