We’re laughing. Hayden Paddon’s not. He’s serious. We’re not laughing anymore.
It’s the final day of Rally Finland and, having consumed most of the food in the Kiwi’s corner of the service park across the last three days, we’ve done the decent thing and come to catch up on how the event’s gone.
And to relieve co-driver John Kennard of a bottle of his superb Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc. As well as being a world rally winning co-driver and one of the most professional and decent people in the sport, John runs Vicarage Lane wines in his native New Zealand.
The work ethic around here is, frankly speaking, exhausting.
To contain costs, just six of the team travelled from the base in Blenheim and five of them are flying home directly. Hayden’s not. He’s busy. Busy with his toothbrush.
“I’m being serious,” he said. “I’ll have the toothbrush out later this week. I have to. If I don’t, we could lose the car for a week or something like that.”
It’s probably a good time to put some context around the reason a busy Hayden Paddon’s going to be seriously busy with his toothbrush.
As we’re talking, the boys are breaking down the service park and loading it into the back of a borrowed Stohl Racing truck. Hours later the Hyundai New Zealand i20 N Rally2 will be loaded into the truck and set south towards Austria.
“I’m driving it back,” said Paddon. “Everybody else needs to get back home to work on other projects – we’re so busy with the Kona EV and other stuff, we just can’t spare people. I drove the truck up here from Manfred’s place in Austria and I’ll drive it back down.”
This is so typical of Paddon. Throughout his whole career, he’s just got on with stuff. It’s been said time and again, but it takes a special kind of person to generate millions of Kiwi dollars to go rallying from the fairly small South Island town of Geraldine.
Paddon did that. Driving a lorry from one end of Europe to another’s not going to faze him.
The driving’s the easy part. It’s what awaits him at the other end that’s a bit more time consuming.
“I’m stripping the car down to clean it,” said Paddon. “It has to be done really thoroughly. That’s what I’ll be using the toothbrush for. I’ll use it to get into the hard-to-reach places, like all around the suspension. When the car gets back to New Zealand the customs guys always have a really good look at it and you have to make sure there’s absolutely no mud or muck anywhere.
“If they find anything, I guess they would take it into quarantine, and we could lose a week while they go through the car even more thoroughly. With [Rally] New Zealand coming, we simply can’t afford to lose that time.”
Having Paddon and Kennard back in the service park was a real treat in Jyväskylä. It’s not just the food. Or the wine. These two are real, genuine rally people. And I still believe there’s a job for them to do in the WRC.
For me, Paddon got the dirty end of the stick back in 2018. When Michel Nandan invited Sébastien Loeb to join Hyundai Motorsport, it cost Paddon his seat. As much as I love Loeb, I genuinely think Paddon would have offered a better return in terms of points across the next two years. Loeb couldn’t really come to terms with the i20 Coupe WRC, a car Paddon had shown both pace and promise in.
The WRC turned its back on Paddon, but Hayden remained staunchly loyal to the Korean manufacturer. Undoubtedly, he could have stepped back into the WRC had he not been so committed to Hyundai, but that’s cut both ways – the New Zealand importer has stood shoulder-to-shoulder even when Seoul has, to my mind, let him down.
The Kona EV project is a case in point. While the WRC dips its toe in the water of alternative fuels, Paddon dives in and demonstrates what can be done when motors and batteries replace pistons and crankshafts. Admittedly, we’ve not seen the Kona running a full-length event yet, but that’s more a reflection on the global supply chain’s impact on the availability of bits.
It’ll come though. And when it does, it’ll be thanks to Kiwi ingenuity.
Paddon’s progress through Rally Finland was bang on target. He talked of top-five pace and no risks and that’s exactly what he delivered. Everything was a bit more complicated after catching COVID during Rally Estonia, but Finland was an event where he wanted to find his WRC feet again.
“No need to be a hero here,” he said.
Hero on one stage could so easily be zero on the next and zero would compromise his home run in Auckland next month. With Hyundai New Zealand such an enthusiastic backer, nothing could compromise that plan.
But it’s next year that could really pay back. Paddon’s in WRC2 for the long-run and chasing the title. I’m sure he has a second world championship in him and, as a sport, it would be fantastic to see him on top of the world again.
And, just before I go, a note to Mr Moncet… it’s still not too late. Lob another i20 N Rally1 in the container and bag yourself a big dump of points next month. Honestly Julien, it’s a no-brainer. HP knows the roads and JK knows them even better. With a great start position, the Kiwis could clean up for you.