As far as slaps in the face, this was about as good as they come.
After years of dedication and devotion to the Hyundai brand, and to Hyundai Motorsport in particular, Hayden Paddon was unceremoniously left out in the cold when the German-based Korean team selected their team for next month’s Rally Finland.
There’s been a revolving door at Hyundai in 2019. Andreas Mikkelsen thought he had an airtight contract to do all rounds of the WRC, but already he’s been dropped twice this season – once for Sebastien Loeb, and once for Dani Sordo.
It’s meant that their quest for a first WRC manufacturer’s title has had more ups and downs than a theme park roller coaster, and has put internal pressure on ‘win at all costs’ team manager, Andrea Adamo.
Success in Italy after Sordo took a surprise last stage win upped their mood, but the Spaniard has never been a fan of the fast, cresty stages in Finland, and was never likely to contest that event. Nor was Sebastien Loeb.
That left the third i20 WRC up for grabs, and common sense would have suggested that Paddon was the perfect choice. He knows the car well, and his form this season has been supreme in the events he’s contested.
But from out of nowhere, it seems, former Citroen driver, Craig Breen, gets the call up to join the team, leaving most gobsmacked.
Breen’s a top-class talent, for sure, but has never won a round of the WRC, nor has he driven the Hyundai.
Sure, he finished third in Finland a couple of years back, but on an event where Hyundai have never been competitive, and in a car he has never driven, surely this is a bold move.
There was talk that Paddon refused the one-off drive in Finland at the start of this season, but this is not the case.
“I will point out all the talk that we turned down the offer of a 1 Rally drive with Hyundai is not correct and was blown out of proportion from media speculation,” he said last week.
“Originally there was talk of this when we first got news of no seat for 2019 last December, and at the time emotion was raw after being left high and dry. However nothing was formally discussed.
“Since February we have actively been in communication to be involved with the team in any role – testing, 1 off rallies (Finland)…..anything. My passion is still very high for WRC and I feel I’m at my prime at present.
“I know the car well and was prepared to jump straight in and do a good job for the team.”
I couldn’t agree more. Paddon was the perfect man for the job.
Let’s not forget here that Hyundai’s test driver, Jari Huttunen, was also overlooked for the Finland drive, so the team are putting incredible pressure on Breen to perform.
The Irishman is match fit, having won last weekend’s Ypres Rally, but whether he’s capable of jumping into a Hyundai World Rally Car for the first time and do the job that Adamo expects of him remains to be seen.
I wish him well, but the world is watching.