Paddon: why am I doing this?

In a revealing interview, ERC champion Hayden Paddon reflects on what last year took out of him

Hayden Paddon

While Portugal focuses the northern hemisphere’s rallying eye, the cat’s back down under. Playtime’s over for the Kiwi mice.

Saturday is round two of the New Zealand Rally Championship and the expectation is of normal service being resumed on the South Canterbury roads. Normal service is, of course, Hayden Paddon winning after he skipped the Otago opener to tackle Rally Hungary.

The Hyundai NZ star is back in town and south of the equator again. For now. Like last year, Paddon is splitting his time between the two hemispheres as he chases an eighth NZ title and back-to-back European crowns. Securing that maiden ERC championship helped lift some of the pressure, but 2024 definitely took its toll on him and his team.

“Things did get pretty tough there last year,” Paddon told DirtFish. “It did get to the point where you ask yourself: “What am I doing this for?””

It’s hard to imagine a more commercially astute driver or a team that works harder for its partners than Paddon and his Cromwell-based outfit. But becoming the first ever non-European to win the FIA’s biggest regional title was a major stretch. Financially and personally.

Hayden Paddon

Taking the boy out of Geraldine has been fairly fruitful down the years. This is Rome on the way to last season's European title

“I’ve sacrificed everything in my life for the sport,” he added. “We’ve lost a fair bit of sponsorship, which has made it harder. And, of course, the costs have gone up to compete as well.

“It’s a challenge for everyone, so I’m not going to sit here and cry about it. At the end of the day, everyone in life goes through the same struggles. I’ve just tried to find a solution on how to fix it.

“When you’ve done something your whole life and it’s not just a sport or hobby, it’s actually your life, then you don’t even see it as a sacrifice. You just see it as something you’ve got to do. My whole career has been like this. It’s no different. It’s just a necessity.

“I’m not a spring chicken, it’s not like we’re trying to chase a WRC drive anymore. But at the end of the day, my problem is that I don’t know any different. It’s what I enjoy and it’s what I’m OK at doing. What else am I going to do?

“Yeah, I’ve had to sell some of my property to help fund some of this year, but we’re pretty lucky we’ve got some good sponsors on board. I’m still at a good level and I’d regret it if I stepped away now because I feel like I’ve still got something to give. I’ve got nothing else.”

Hawkeswood Otago

Courtesy of his Otago win, Hawkeswood leads the New Zealand Rally Championship into South Canterbury on Saturday

New Zealand gets Paddon. His struggle to bring world and European titles back to the South Island town of Geraldine is well documented – but globally it’s a story which is rarely given the credit it’s due.

On Saturday morning, all that gets put behind him and his co-driver Jared Hudson as the pair set about the NZRC field, looking to make up for missing Otago in the i20 AP4.

“It’s good to be back,” smiled Paddon. “It’s always good to be at home.”

And he’s always welcome at home. Yes, he’s a thorn in the side of the opposition, but he’s also somebody who puts his heart and soul into the sport. And he’s the best possible benchmark for rising Kiwi stars.

Rising Kiwi stars like Jack Hawkeswood, who guided his Toyota GR Yaris AP4 to a round one win over Robbie Stokes. The Aucklander was understandably delighted with his maiden NZ series win, but he knows repeating that feat will be another matter this weekend.

What’s the mindset for the competition as they head out of Timaru on Saturday morning? Do they fear Paddon?

“I don’t fear him,” said Hawkeswood. “I consider Paddon a good mate of mine, but look, hey, he’s a world-class driver and that’s why he’s over racing in the ERC this year.

“But the day I do take a stage off him, we’ll have a real party that night.”

And even though he’s not the most committed party animal, you can guarantee Paddon will be right in there celebrating too.

He’s that kind of bloke. New Zealand’s that kind of place.