Paddon off on Europe campaign

Hayden Paddon competes in the South Canterbury Rally at the weekend. PHOTO: GEOFF RIDDER
Hayden Paddon competes in the South Canterbury Rally at the weekend. PHOTO: GEOFF RIDDER
Hayden Paddon does not expect to have the training wheels on for too long.

The Cromwell-based driver headed to Europe this week for a long-awaited return to the international rally arena.

He has linked with long-serving co-driver John Kennard, who was already overseas, and a squadron of his engineers and technicians for the Rally di Alba, a Tour European Rally event, in Italy this weekend.

It is a massive trip all round.

Paddon, the former WRC driver, and his team have been working long days and nights at their Cromwell base as they continue to work on their revolutionary technology for electric rally vehicles.

He will be in a noisier car in Italy, a Hyundai i20 R5 run by Hyundai Motorsport Italy, and it will be his first rally on tarmac in five years.

"I might have to put the training wheels back on, I reckon," Paddon told the Otago Daily Times.

"But it will be fun. Expectations will be pretty low, so we’re going there to get some miles and start the campaign off and get our name back on the map."

PHOTO: GEOFF RIDDER
PHOTO: GEOFF RIDDER

This is familiar territory for Paddon, who has driven in every condition and every rally event imaginable.

But it will be like school for the members of his team, who need to gain experience of European rallying before Paddon chases the World Rally2 Championship title next year.

"It’s the first time for all of them doing an event overseas. That’s a great opportunity for them but also a big learning curve.

"Competing overseas is generally quite different to rallying in New Zealand, so we are going to be learning together."

Paddon never drives to lose, and he intends to push as hard as he can in this campaign.

"I’ve got full confidence in our team. What we’ve done in New Zealand over the past few years has far exceeded my expectations.

"So I’ve got a huge amount of confidence that we can take this Kiwi mentality and effort to overseas racing."

After Italy, the team will head to Rally Liepaja in Latvia on July 1-3.

Paddon will inherit his Hyundai Rally2 car just the night before the event.

Then it will be into two rounds of WRC2, in Estonia (July 14-17) and Finland (August 4-7).

The juices must be flowing but Paddon is staying laser-focused on getting back into some elite rallying.

"I just love driving, to be honest," he said.

"I’m probably relieved that we’ve finally got this programme off the ground after three years of trying to put it all together.

"Obviously, there is now a little bit of pressure over the next 18 months to pull it all off, and we’re not just going for the sake of driving — we really want to achieve something."

Paddon’s major focus for the year is Rally New Zealand at the end of September.

He will be looking to seal his NZRC title, and celebrating the return of the WRC after a decade as the event’s official ambassador.

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