At times, Hayden Paddon’s belligerence has been deeply frustrating. Why wouldn’t he just listen? Why wouldn’t he just pick up the phone? Couldn’t he understand there was life outside of Hyundai?
In short, no.
The reality is, of course, he could. Of course, he could. But Hyundai had given him his big break, his first factory drive in the World Rally Championship and he couldn’t and wouldn’t forget that.
“Loyalty means a lot to me,” Paddon told DirtFish. “It means a lot down here [in New Zealand]. I’ve had lots of offers to drive other things, but I’ve turned them down.”
The exception came in 2019, when he was scheduled to drive a Ford Fiesta WRC at Rally Finland – only for an unavoidable rock (watch the video, this one’s genuinely unavoidable…) to pitch the Fiesta off the road in testing. He did drive a Fiesta Rally2 on that year’s Rally GB – those outings came about courtesy of an agreement with Hyundai New Zealand, a company independent of Hyundai Motor Corporation.
“We’ve got an amazing partner with Hyundai New Zealand,” added Paddon. “We work well together and the respect and loyalty between us both is completely mutual.”
After leading the Hyundai Motorsport team through the early part of 2016 – a purple patch which included beating Sébastien Ogier fair and square on El Condor to win Rally Argentina – Paddon was dropped in favor of Sébastien Loeb two years later.
The New Zealander had a deal to drive an i20 Coupe WRC in 2019, but he accepted the team’s decision and returned home to work with Hyundai New Zealand, developing one of the world’s leading EV rally cars and keeping a vice-like grip on the New Zealand Championship.
Next year, he’s back to the world championship on a more full-time footing. He will chase the WRC2 title, while hoping he can still find a way back to the top table.
His hopes of playing himself back into WRC2 with a program of mid-season events was derailed by COVID-19 in Estonia.
He said: “The perfect season is a full Rally2 program with some selected Rally1 outings, maybe two or three depending on the rallies. I think there’s some good rallies there where we can do well on.
“I think my strong rallies are some of the more medium-speed technical rallies: Sardinia, definitely. If Chile’s back on that would be another one and México, those type of events. And then, if you do a selected program, you can maybe be in a better road position because you’re further back.”
This month’s Rally New Zealand demonstrated Paddon still has plenty of pace to offer – driving with a finish very much in mind from Friday lunchtime and still winning by a country mile.
Paddon has earned another shot, he deserves it. Hyundai Motorsport recently talked of a desire to see more experience back in the squad after ditching its Oliver Solberg-based youth policy. If it’s experience, speed, loyalty and hard work that matters, Paddon has to be in the frame.