Flying home from Rally Argentina in 2016, Hayden Paddon was flying high. Leading the Hyundai Motorsport team with more than double the number of points Thierry Neuville had landed, things were looking good for the driver who had just edged Sébastien Ogier in a final-stage south American thriller.
Just over 12 months later, the Kiwi was grounded, missing Rally Spain in favor of Andreas Mikkelsen. Fast forward another year and he’s out of the Alzenau-based team altogether.
From the outside, it looks like Paddon was given a fair go, but there are those in the team who still question whether giving him more of a say in the development direction of the i20 Coupe WRC would have delivered a maiden title to Korea sooner than 2019.
There’s little doubt Paddon has the ability to research and engineer rally cars to the highest possible level – his all-electric Hyundai Kona EV is absolute proof of that.
Since losing his WRC seat, Paddon has returned to New Zealand and developed Paddon Rallysport into one of the most relevant, competitive, and commercially competent firms in the sport.
As much as he is enjoying shaping the future of rallying, Paddon is starting to get itchy feet again.
“There’s no doubt I miss competing in the world championship,” he told DirtFish. “It’s the pinnacle of the sport I love and I still firmly believe I have a lot to offer at that level.”
Now more than ever, Paddon has a point. Few drivers in the world comprehend what it means to get the most out of an all-electric or hybrid rally car as he does. Maybe the time has come to share some of the insight he’s spent the last 12 months building.
“Driving these cars is the same, but different,” said Paddon. “You have to have a different mindset and a different understanding and expectation of the car. Inevitably there’s more weight in the car and the distribution of that componentry [for hybrid or electric] is linked to the way the power is delivered and the way the chassis works.
“In terms of actual driving style, with electric, you need to take a more circuit racing-type approach with really refined throttle input. It’s a radical change in the way you drive a car.
“For example, taking 100% throttle out of a corner on the loose will generate lots of wheelspin and could use the battery very quickly. So adjusting your thinking and your throttle input to use 60 or 70% will contain the wheelspin and make the battery last longer, while extracting the same performance from the car.
“Torque and wheelspin on a loose surface doesn’t equal performance all of the time and with EV and hybrid systems that needs to be managed between software and driver inputs.
It would be great to work on a deal for WRC. We’ve seen guys like Mikkelsen and Esapekka [Lappi] going to WRC2 and that’s something I’d be interested in.Hayden Paddon on his WRC comeback options
“Trust me, we have learned so, so much about areas which we probably hadn’t even considered with running an EV in the last 12 months – but you have to be in the middle of it and driving the car to understand these things.”
While the Kona EV is expected to be seen at selected events in New Zealand through 2021, Paddon will return to his i20 AP4 car for his domestic series, starting with next month’s Otago Rally.
“The plan is to mix things up a little bit,” said Paddon. “We’re looking at running our own AP4 car in New Zealand and for the Asia Pacific shoot-out event in Coffs Harbour (Australia), but then we also have an i20 R5 for the Australian Rally Championship.
“The good thing for us right now is that the economy in New Zealand is looking quite strong and people are keen to work with us and to compete in the sport.
“It’s great to compete at home but I know I still have plenty to give at a world level. It’s difficult when you leave something, but you don’t leave it on your own terms – it feels like there is unfinished business there.
“Right now, travel is complicated with New Zealand, but it’s absolutely not impossible to get back to Europe.
“It would be great to work on a deal for WRC. We’ve seen guys like Mikkelsen and Esapekka [Lappi] going to WRC2 and that’s something I’d be interested in – especially in an i20 N Rally2. I’ve only seen the car testing in videos, but it looks impressive. It looks stable, agile and it looks like it’s delivering good power.
“Hyundai’s Customer Racing operation has come on tremendously in the last three years or so, to the point that they’re becoming Volkswagen-esque in their domination of a variety of stage and track disciplines.”
While Paddon looks to the future, it’s a future intertwined with Hyundai.
“I’m a Hyundai ambassador and working very closely with Hyundai NZ,” he said. “There’s no doubt, I want to see the brand excel globally.”