'Accident is something I'll never forget' - Hayden Paddon
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Kiwi rally driver Hayden Paddon acknowledges that his Rally Monte Carlo accident that resulted in the death of a spectator will stay with him forever but he is determined not to let it harm his future aspirations.
The 29-year-old Hyundai works driver is back in New Zealand for a short break before next week's Rally Mexico and he spoke candidly to the Herald about the tragedy on the season-opening event in January.
Paddon lost control of his Hyundai i20 in treacherous conditions on the opening stage after hitting a patch of black ice. His car slid off the road and rolled slowly onto its roof, making contact with a roadside spectator in the process, who passed away later that day.
It was a freak accident - akin to a cricketer hitting a ball into the stands for six only for it to hit a spectator.
The New Zealander withdrew from the event out of respect and took some time out before the next rally and has not spoken in detail about the event since although he has promised to work with the sport's governing body to try and ensure a similar tragedy is not repeated.
"Of course it wasn't a good situation - it is not something you want to be involved in and it is not something you want to see for the sport," he told the Herald.
"It is one of those things that is an unfortunate accident and I think the most crucial thing moving forward is that lessons are learned and that it doesn't happen again. That is what I want to see and I want to help the FIA to ensure that is the case.
"When we are in the car driving we accept the risks of our sport but spectators shouldn't be in that position.
"I don't think there is any point in finger pointing. It won't change anything and I think it will blur people's vision with how you move forward. We need to move forward with a clear mind and try and be constructive with how this can be avoided."
Paddon received a lot of support from the motorsport and wider community after the incident and he is grateful for it.
"It was clear to see there was a lot of support - on social media, emails, phone calls - it was pretty humbling," he said.
A modest and reserved character generally, Paddon opted to take some time away with partner Katie after Monte Carlo to deal with the tragedy in his own way.
"The best way for me to deal with things like this is to keep to myself - deal with it between myself and Katie. I prefer to deal with things our own way. We did that - we took some time between Monte Carlo and Sweden just to digest it all.
"We tried to make contact with the spectator's family and offer a little bit of comfort where we can. Obviously no matter what you do or say it is never going to change what happened. We have to be respectful that someone lost a father and a family member and nothing is going to change that."
While it is clear the incident has had a significant impact on him personally Paddon is determined that it won't have any lasting impact on his career.
"We have to look forward," he explained. "We have spent many, many years getting to this point. We have had many obstacles thrown in front of us and for sure this is one of the hardest ones but we can't give up. We have to carry on and use this maybe as a bit of motivation to dig deeper and work harder and make our goals achievable in the spectator's honour.
"It certainly won't hold me back. I set my life to achieving these goals and I still enjoy the driving side. Nothing with that has changed. Sure, this is something that I will never forget. It will live with me forever but I need to treat it as motivation not as a road block and try and make our lifetime goals possible."