Motorsport: Hayden Paddon's 2015 WRC hopes
Kiwi driver seems to pick up more skills every time he races, writes Colin Smith
Kiwi rally star Hayden Paddon hopes to tell the world about his 2015 plans before Christmas.
The former production car world champion is confident his promising first foray into the highest level of the sport this year will lead to a bigger 2015 programme behind the wheel of a WRC machine.
"At the moment it's a lot of phone calls, emails and negotiations. I will definitely be back in the WRC next year, hopefully with nine or 10 rallies," Paddon said.
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An announcement could come as early as next week and Paddon says his preferred option is to remain with Hyundai Motorsport, with which he drove six WRC events this year.
A move to Citroen has emerged as the second possibility for the Geraldine driver.
"The most important thing for me is getting more rallies and more miles. I won't be in Monte Carlo in January but I should be in Sweden for round two in February."
Paddon's six-rally 2014 programme with Hyundai Motorsport delivered plenty of promise. There were glimpses of front-running pace, rally-by-rally improvement and the young Kiwi also proved to be a safe pair of hands.
Paddon says he is his own harshest critic and sums up his season with the phrase "a steep learning curve".
"We won a stage and improved with each rally. We didn't put a mark on the car but deep down I'm looking to be more competitive.
Hayden Paddon (above, and above at right with co-driver John Kennard) has earned another WRC campaign. Picture / Andre Lavadinho
"I'm not the sort of person who is happy with seventh or eighth but the end result is I have two offers for next year, so in that sense it was very positive."
Paddon and co-driver John Kennard - who will continue his key role in 2015 - posted some front-running stage times in 2014. Paddon knows the next challenge is to turn those bursts of pace into a more consistent level of performance.
"The thing is to do it on every stage. The rallies are now like 300km sprints and the speed everyone is going is nuts."
Paddon says Rally Spain is a good measure of his improvement. He drove his first event in a WRC car (a Ford Fiesta) there in 2013 and returned there in October this year.
"Second time around my pace notes were much better and the event was familiar. It just made everything easier and that's where next year I can build on the experiences of 2014."
Paddon's 2014 programme didn't kick off till June. He says it was forced by circumstances but keeping busy with six rallies in six months avoided long breaks between events and helped him to build some momentum.
"It was really forced by necessity because the team wasn't ready to run three cars so early in the season," Paddon said.
"But the benefits were that by the second half of the year the new car was more reliable with most of the bugs ironed out."
After years of working on his own rally cars and being involved in team decisions Paddon found life very different as a factory team driver.
"In some ways you just turn up and drive. There's 152 people to run three cars so every detail is taken care of.
"There's some training on how to repair the things that can be fixed on the car but there's a masseuse and someone to make sure the helmets and drinks bottles are in the car ready to go.
"You use the time preparing. You run through the data, study a lot of on-board footage, work on the pace notes and go hard in the gym."
Wherever he went during 2014 Kiwis turned out to show support.
"The highlight was definitely Australia and our supporters' tour. There were so many people in our team gear and with New Zealand flags it seemed like 80 per cent of the spectators were New Zealanders. But there wasn't a rally where there wasn't a few Kiwi flags.
"They were even there in Poland and Sardinia and often they seemed to be in the most adventurous spectator spots.
"I love that support. I'm living my dream and it's great to see Kiwis who are living the dream with us.
"I think it shows that rallying is a part of the Kiwi DNA and I hope that the world championship can return here in 2016.
"One of my ambitions is to be a factory driver battling for the win of Rally of New Zealand," he said.
"The only thing better than that would be becoming world rally champion."