Inside Paddon’s toughest WRC challenge yet

Paddon is on a WRC2 comeback trail after lockdown, and "there’s no such thing as impossible" for his all-Kiwi effort

FIA European Rally Championship 2022 Stop 5 – Liepaja, Latvia

For somebody who used to travel the world religiously, 32 months without boarding a flight abroad is a very long time. But the world hasn’t exactly been a ‘normal’ place for the past two years, has it?

Without a World Rally Championship drive and quite literally locked down in New Zealand, Hayden Paddon hadn’t been outside NZ – let alone back in Europe – since Rally GB where he drove in WRC2 for M-Sport.

But now he’s back, and doing it the Kiwi way.

For the first time in his career, Paddon is rallying in Europe with an all-New Zealand team of guys. There’s an alliance with Manfred Stohl’s STARD operation, but Paddon’s small army have paused their commitments back home for an epic two-and-a-half-month European adventure.


It’s an important one as Paddon makes his return to the WRC after almost three years away on next weekend’s Rally Estonia – a precursor to further outings in Finland and back home in New Zealand,

But unlike when he was last here, running with massive teams who had equally massive facilities and could call on an extensive network of personnel and suppliers, Paddon is doing it old-school – with is mates. And that certainly creates its challenges.

“We’re a very small team – including John [Kennard, co-driver] and I, there’s seven of us here for this two-and-a-half-month period, and then we have some contractors that come in during the rallies, so another four will join us,” Paddon tells DirtFish.

“But then obviously between the rallies we’re basically like a moving family around Europe at the moment, living in Airbnbs.

“We’ve got a workshop base in Estonia that another team’s helping us out with at the moment, and then we’ll come back here and prep again after Estonia. And we’re just doing everything ourselves.

“We’ve got our main tech guy over here with us, a guy called Mike, but we’ve only really got one tech doing most of the prep work and then all of us are helping him on the side with jobs that we can do, but then there’s also all the organization, logistics, moving the vehicles around the trucks.

“Yeah, everything is just a lot harder when you’re doing it from the other side of the world where you don’t have contacts, you don’t know the languages, you don’t know where to get the parts – there’s a lot of things that we’re learning on the go at the moment, so it’s certainly a lot more challenging than doing it at home.”

But that’s part of the fun, and must provide Paddon with a massive sense of pride that he can take on the world’s best with a bunch of homegrown guys behind him.

FIA European Rally Championship 2022 Stop 5 - Liepaja, Latvia

“Aw definitely,” he agrees.

“There’s lots of challenges that we’re facing but it’s just cool to do it with your own guys who all know each other, are all good mates and that just adds to the whole adventure if you like.

“When we’re all doing it for the same reasons and we’re all enjoying it, then it actually makes the whole adventure and the whole experience that much better.”

Even though the Paddon Rallysport team has only been here for a few weeks so far, it’s already been a massively busy period. First up was Rally di Alba – Paddon’s first asphalt rally in five years – in an HMI-run Hyundai i20 R5, but the biggest task was last weekend’s Rally Liepāja in the European Rally Championship.

On the week of the rally Paddon picked up his brand-new i20 N Rally2 that he used last weekend and will use in WRC2 for this select program this year. But to say that was a smooth process would be an utter lie.

“We got it on the Wednesday in Latvia,” Paddon explains, “but still at that stage we hadn’t had it registered so we had to wait until the plates and the registrations were all done in Germany on the Thursday and then they all come on the plane.

“That all got stuck on the car about an hour before qualifying, and then it was straight into qualifying. So John and I’s first time in the car was driving out to the qualifying stage, there was about 5km of road section on gravel before we got to the stage so that was the first time we got to feel what the car actually felt like, so it was definitely a jump in the deep end.”

There were struggles on the rally too, as Paddon grappled with the base customer set-up as he didn’t have time to fine-tune anything to his driving needs. This week has therefore all been about refining the car to Paddon’s taste – all from a workshop that’s unfamiliar to the team.

FIA European Rally Championship 2022 Stop 5 - Liepaja, Latvia

“I guess you could say our work begins now,” Paddon says.

“You’re obviously restricted with how much you can change, but the things we can change we’re pretty much revising all of it – so that’s differentials, suspension, chassis and geometry.

“We’re doing a big overhaul on the car this week to change all of those areas, but we couldn’t change those without driving the car and we didn’t have the budget to go testing – or time, the car came obviously quite late.

“So now we’ve got that direction we know how to target each area and what changes we need to make. It’s not going to be perfect straight away but at least now we can go in the right direction.

FIA European Rally Championship 2022 Stop 5 - Liepaja, Latvia

“The plan was not to do any [pre Estonia] testing from a budget perspective, but because I was struggling for a feeling with the car in Latvia – more than what I was hoping to – and we are making a lot of changes to the car, we might try and do a 20km test this weekend just to validate what we’ve done to the car.

“That depends if we get everything done in time.”

Paddon and his team simply haven’t heard of the phrase ‘day off’ before, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.

“Often over here [in Europe] if things are too hard then people give up, but the Kiwi way is we just find a way.

“There’s no such thing as impossible.”