Hayden Paddon was 10 years old, but the memories remain as strong as ever. Especially when they’re revisited and brought to life as graphically as this.
Pushing the start button, Paddon fires fuel into the Subaru Impreza 555 that sits beneath him. It catches, the burble begins. The Kiwi smiles his broadest smile. Looking ahead, he’s staring through the same screen that his childhood hero Peter ‘Possum’ Bourne stared through on his way to winning three Australian and one Asia Pacific Rally Championship titles.
“It’s pretty surreal,” said Paddon. “Sitting here, where ‘Possum’ sat, 20… actually 25 years ago. I didn’t actually know him personally, I was a bit young, but I remember getting autographs and pictures. He had so much success with this car, to get the chance to drive it is something special.”
And Stu Webber, the car’s owner had a special message for Paddon.
“He was telling me to drive it properly,” Paddon said. “He told me to go crazy and drive it like Colin [McRae] would have driven an Impreza like this.
“I don’t think I’ve been more nervous in driving a car. I didn’t want to break it or scratch it. In the end I found some middle ground and had some fun.
“I’ve got to be honest though, the car surpassed all of my expectations. I knew it would be a good car, but even by modern standards, it was fantastic. It had so much grunt, it was nimble and so nicely balanced. I think the biggest thing was the suspension – it didn’t have the sort of travel we have these days and that tells a little bit. Otherwise, it was remarkable and a real privilege to drive a car that helped make ‘Possum’ who he was.”
And who ‘Possum’ was is New Zealand’s most famous rally driver before Paddon arrived. Through 1993-1995 Bourne drove for the Subaru World Rally Team and even when his car was entered by Subaru Rally Team Australia, it was well looked after by the Prodrive factory.
Bourne had started his first ever world championship title tilt – he was chasing the 2003 PWRC title – when he was killed when he collided, under non-competitive circumstances, with another competitor on the Race to the Sky in New Zealand’s South Island.
Paddon won the PWRC title driving a Subaru in 2011, and the Pacific Cup in 2009 and ’19. The cancelation of the season finale meant a third title couldn’t be awarded this year despite being top scorer.