In rallying, you’ll often hear drivers talk about percentages.
But to mere mortals like you or I, it’s not always the easiest to understand the practical differences between a driver driving at 95% of their capacity of performing at 100%. Obviously 100% is faster, but in which specific ways? And how big, or small, is that difference?
Hayden Paddon is far from a mere mortal, but he had perhaps forgotten the difference too.
After three years out of European competition, his return for a one-off European Rally Championship event and two in the World Rally Championship last year provided an answer.
In his words, it was a rude awakening.
Stepping back into such a competitive environment, Paddon realized he had “lost a bit of that edge” compared to where he used to be as a WRC full-timer.
But the new European Rally champion feels he has finally rediscovered it after a seriously impressive season display with six podiums from seven rallies which was good enough for him to wrap up the championship one round early.
“I must say I’ve loved European championship this year, I’ve loved everything about it and if anything I’ve got the bug to be back in Europe more often,” Paddon said on this week’s edition of SPIN, The Rally Pod.
“I feel like we’ve upped the pace again, we’re sort of getting back to where we were. When we started over here last year in Finland after being away for three years, it was a bit of a rude awakening – we’d probably lost a bit of that edge.
“But now, just being over here more often and more seat time, it’s all coming back now and I want to keep this momentum going.”
Paddon’s ruthless consistency is ultimately what won him the title, but he was impressed by the strength of the competition he faced in 2023.
“[It’s] super fast, there’s a lot of very fast drivers and a lot of very good young, promising drivers who I think have got exciting futures,” Paddon admitted.
“The biggest thing for us, and I guess this is the one benefit of maybe being a bit older and wiser nowadays, but you learn to be more consistent. I know what it was like 10 years ago, you were just focused on each and every stage and you weren’t necessarily looking at the big picture and you can see with some of these I guess more inexperienced drivers, they’re a little bit inconsistent.
“So they can be super fast for two or three stages and then they might have an issue or a bad stage and whatnot. Nowadays we know in rallying you can’t afford to have bad stages because you can’t get that time back, so it’s about consistently being at 99% rather than necessarily having four stages at 100% and one at 80%.
“It’s a game of percentages at the end of the day and it’s something I’ve learned over time how to manage, and it’s something we can build on.
“For sure we can always get faster and have more speed because there are some people out there who have potentially got more raw speed, but we know in this game it’s about not just raw speed it’s about the whole package.”
Ironically, Paddon’s coronation as champion did come on a difficult weekend where he ran wide and ripped a wheel off on Barum Rally Zlín.
“I actually think the speed was OK, as the old famous saying goes!” he quipped, referencing Juha Kankkunen’s famous “the speed was OK but the corner was too tight” line.
“But I turned in too early and that pushed us out wide on the exit. If we were pushing it would maybe have been a different situation as we’d have been carrying more speed which would have given a later apex, but look it’s just one of those mistakes.
“Unfortunately it was on a gravel corner, the grip was changing and I just misjudged it.”
Parking up left Paddon feeling a bit “empty” as he knew he would probably still be champion later that day, so he wasn’t as dejected as he might otherwise have been.
But instead of sitting and waiting for the team to recover the car, he decided to set himself a challenge.
“We thought ‘right we better go and find that wheel and damper because we probably want that back!’ And once I actually found it and it was all in one piece, OK everything ripped off it, then I thought ‘this could be quite a nice challenge.’ Rather than sitting on the side of the road for three hours, why don’t we try and put it back together?
“It took half an hour to find the wheel. If we had found the wheel a lot quicker and got it back to the car we potentially could have got to the end of the stage within our lateness, got to service and carried on.
“But unfortunately it just took too long to get the wheel initially. But yeah, bolted it all back together, few cable ties, allen keys, ratchet straps and she was as good as new.”
Listen to the full podcast with Paddon here.