New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon is one of the only leading WRC drivers whose attention isn’t split between chasing success at WRC Rally Australia which starts tomorrow and looking to secure a drive in the 2017 championship.
Paddon was one of four drivers at the WRC press conference on Thursday afternoon and the others - Volkswagen’s world champion Sebastien Ogier, his team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen and D-Mack Tyres Ford driver Ott Tanak - aren’t sure where they will be competing next year.
Volkswagen’s shock withdrawal from the WRC puts Ogier, Mikkelsen and team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala onto the market. Tanak also has yet to secure a driver in 2017.
Volkswagen's Andreas Mikkelsen. Picture/ Greg Henderson
Yesterday’s press conference in Coffs Harbour was the first time the WRC stars have faced the media since news broke the VW programme was to be canned.
"It’s always sad when a team is leaving, especially a team like Volkswagen which has invested a lot in the sport,’’ said Ogier.
"It’s difficult for the timing as well – the time is running to find a solution for next year.’’
The French world champion is expecting an emotional weekend as Volkswagen competes for the final time.
"I don’t think so much it’s the last time, but Sunday night will be emotional with all this success behind us. I want to keep thinking positive and to think about the success we achieved, but we have some work to be ready for next year.’’
Ogier said he has two options – believed to be a return to Citroen or a place with Malcom Wilson’s M-Sport squad.
"It’s no secret that I have been having some talks with a couple of teams, the next step is to work harder on it with them and have a bit more clue about what the plan is for the future.
"I like to judge before I sign with anybody and also to try the car – it’s important to have some feeling for which car I could drive next year.’’
Ogier is hoping that Volkswagen will agree to allow him to test other cars in the near future.
Hayden Paddon. Picture/Greg Henderson Photos
"I hope this is to be agreed. We have what you say is a gentlemen’s agreement that I can work on my future. I hope, when I go back to Europe, very quickly I can work on this new project because there are only a couple of weeks before Monte Carlo.
"We are already late to be in the optimal condition for Monte Carlo. I hope to make my decision soon. There are a couple of teams willing to work with me, but I cannot say the situation is comfortable, but at least I have more options in my hand.
Ogier indicated he will likely pick the car he feels will be the strongest contender in 2017.
"I am always looking for competition and being competitive. A competitive team and car is what I want so I can have the car and continue what we have done for some years.
Norway’s Mikkelsen said the Volkswagen withdrawal was devastating news.
"We heard some rumours in GB, but there are always rumours at that time of the year. But when it was confirmed, it came as a big shock.
"It’s really close to the end of the year, Monte Carlo is not far away and we all need to find where the future belongs. The situation is definitely not easy. But now there’s full focus on one more rally, all the rest will come out in the next couple of weeks.
Mikkelsen and the other drivers will likely have to wait until Ogier makes a commitment.
"I’m lucky to have good management and they are dealing with this situation as good as they can,’’ said Mikkelsen.
"It’s late in season and a lot of seats have been taken, but it’s the same story for me and Jari-Matti [Latvala]: we have to see what Seb does and see what’s left.’’
Tanak was positive he will have a full-time drive in 2017.
"Obviously the late drama has changed a lot and it’s playing some cards,’’ said the Estonian.
"It will be quite interesting to see what happens in the next couple of weeks. I think we should still be OK.’’
Paddon also said his reaction to the Volkswagen announcement was shock.
"It’s sad, nobody wants to see it; Volkswagen has been the benchmark, they have made us all push harder. But I’m sure the sport will keep growing and the three drivers will end up in teams and the close competition will continue.’’
Paddon is looking to end the season on a high note at the Australian season finale.
"I want to be competitive and try to fight for the podium,’’ he said.
`"On the first pass, I think we know there’s going to be some benefit in our road position and that will come into play: we will have the advantage, so on the first pass we have to have a bit of an attack. We’re all out wanting to be as competitive as we can and to do the best job we can do.
"There’s been a bit of a flat spot in the second half of the year, it’s not been exactly where I wanted to be. So I’ll push as hard as I can and see where the result is.’’
The first of Friday’s 11 special stages to the south of Coffs Harbour starts at 7.56am (9.56am NZ).