Whaanga Coast, Te Akau and Manawahe. There are three reasons why Hayden Paddon won’t be worrying about his future this weekend.
This weekend’s about Rally New Zealand and his run out ahead of thousands of passionate and partisan fans.
What this weekend was supposed to be about was convincing the FIA that New Zealand’s return to the World Rally Championship was ready to go next season.
Because of a lack of funding, that shot’s gone south. Question is, will Paddon’s career follow suit?
Last week’s Rally Australia was a real eye-opener into life in the Hyundai team. I said in my report in this week’s issue, the Korean squad is divided between the Andreas Mikkelsen and Thierry Neuville camp and those loyal to Hayden Paddon and Dani Sordo.
That situation remains and, while Michel Nandan and Alain Penasse will work hard through the closed season to bring the team together, there will undoubtedly remain an undercurrent early into next year.
Sordo has made his feelings quite clear: he wants to move on and get on with the seven rallies he will contest in 2018. And Paddon has to do the same.
It’s absolutely vital that Hayden puts this behind him. Yes, it’s a massive setback, but it’s only going to be career-ending if he lets it.
I’ve spoken to Nandan and Penasse at length on this subject and both want Paddon to succeed. If they didn’t believe in him, he wouldn’t be in the car at all next year. Running a driver on seven rallies is still a multi-million-pound investment and not one that’s done lightly.
What Paddon has to do is focus on the positives. Stop carping on about struggling on asphalt. Juha Kankkunen won four world titles without even coming close to a win on Tarmac, apart from when Toyota cheated in 1995 – and even then he crashed.
There was fault on both sides this year. The season started in the most appalling fashion with the crash in Monte Carlo and there was little to cheer in the following months.
Understandably, Paddon was nowhere near his normal self in Sweden, then he had car trouble in Mexico; couldn’t find the feeling in Corsica; rolled in Argentina; more car trouble in Portugal and then Sardinia. Breakthrough. He was leading and looking good. Then he hit a bank and broke a driveshaft.
What was it that he called himself? Oh yeah, an amateur. And a d*ckhead.
Amatuer’s a bit harsh, but there was definitely a case for the latter.
Poland. Genuine breakthrough. Second.
Finland, more damage; Germany, punctures.
Out for Spain.
In for GB, but no confidence.
Australia, podium. Just.
It’s been a hell of a year.
They happen in sport.
Go back a bit further and you’d find him second in Sweden, winning Argentina and finishing just off the podium for the last three rounds in 2016.
Paddon’s still got it. He knows it and the team knows it.
Doubtless, he’s not the popular guy in town with them right now. And all he can see is the golden boys Neuville and Mikkelsen swanning around, winning rallies, finishing on the podium and laughing at each other’s jokes.
Why shouldn’t they? They’ve both been where Paddon is now. And they’ve both pulled themselves out.
Forget the stuff you can’t control. Wind everything back and get back to enjoying driving the car – not easy I know when you’re driving style sets you out on a limb and the car’s not really tailored for Paddon’s aggressive style.
All is not lost for Paddon. He’s still only 30 and has a decade at the top of the sport if he gets the next season right. He’s worked harder than anybody I know to get himself into this position and to see it go down the toilet now would be a tragedy.
Let’s not let that happen.