As our engines warm up in time for the Rally, FOCUS chats with New Zealand driver Hayden Paddon, who will be racing in the Production World Rally Championships against our very own Nathan Quinn.
Enthusiasm for motor sport must run in your family. Your dad was a driver in his own right, wasn’t he?
Yeah, he was driving before I was even born, so I guess you can say it was the culture I was born into. It’s really the only way of life that I know.
When did you first get involved yourself?
I started driving go karts when I was 6-years-old, but even before that I used to go to a lot of rallies with Dad. I spent about 6 years in go karts, and then I started driving a car. The first one was a Mini (of all cars) when I was 12, and it progressed from there.
Tell us about the Mini.
We originally bought it as a road car and did a lot of time trials event as it was. Over a period of 2 or 3 years, we developed it. I’m no mechanic, but it’s how I learnt how to work on and maintain cars – then I learnt how to drive in it. After the Mini, we were able to move to a more powerful car.
What are you driving now?
At the moment we’re in the Production World Championships driving a Subaru STI. It’s actually a really nice car to drive. It’s based on a production car that you buy off a showroom floor, just with modifications to suit the rally. But it’s a really nicely balanced car … the handling is very neutral and very positive.
There’s probably a few people who don’t understand the difference between Production World Championships (PWRC) and the World Rally Championships (WRC). So can you just explain that for us?
Basically, there are a couple of parts to the world championship – the Super 2000 World Rally Championship and the Production World Championship. We’re all in the same event, competing on the same roads at the same time, but our cars are of different specifications. The difference, if you had to make it easy to understand, is that a world rally car is a 1.5 million dollar car compared to a production world rally car, which is a two hundred thousand dollar car. It sort of puts in perspective how much better a world rally car is.
So you are racing in the PWRC. Aren’t you the leader at the moment?
Yeah, we’re leading on our own. I think the calculation is that if we win in Australia, then we win the championship with two rounds to spare.
So what strategies have you got in place to take out the title?
Well, our strategy for Australia is just to go flat out, really! Because we do have a bit of a buffer in the championship, if things do turn pear shaped, we still have a couple of rounds up our sleeve. I want to go a lot further in the sport yet. We need to show more speed, so in Australia we’re just going to be concentrating on driving as fast as we can. And I’m sure people like Nathan Quinn are going to be giving us a bit of a hurry up as well! So we will have to have our A-Game on!
At Rally Australia 2009, you actually surpassed our local driver, Nathan Quinn, in the Pirelli Star Driver program, and that got you some free rides in the 2010 WRC. What was it like competing at that level?
It was an amazing experience. The scholarship, which was a fully funded drive in the WRC for 6 rounds, was amazing, and we finished third in the PWRC last year with that scholarship.
The experience is the biggest factor. When you’re in a World Championship Rally, the level that it goes to from a National Rally is a whole lot higher. The competition is a lot faster, there’s less room for mistakes, the events are a lot more rigorous, and they take a lot more out of you. So that was a great experience, but also it gave us that stepping stone.
Without that scholarship, we wouldn’t be back in the PWRC this year. Even though we’re having to fund it all ourselves this year, it just gave us that stepping stone and we were in the limelight. We were able to make enough of an impression last year to give us a bit of a boost for this year.
We hear you’re also running a Belgium-based program this year …
The PWRC program we’re doing is run by a Belgian team called Symtech Racing. The car is based in Belgium and shipped around the world. The only PWRC round that we’re not using that car for is Australia, where we’re using the car that we have here in New Zealand, just for logistics and budget reasons.
But it’s the same car; they’re both Subaru STIs. They’re set up very similar … the biggest difference is the car here is right hand drive, whereas our European car is left hand drive.
As a rally driver, you obviously need to keep fit as well as fine tune your driving skills. What sort of training is involved for you?
A lot of it is cardio, and that training is quite important. Inside the car the heat is quite high, but also fatigue is a big factor, so I do quite a bit of work on cardio to help with that. I’m out running 5 – 10 km every day, with a few weights and flexibility exercises as well. During the peak of the season you do struggle more for time, but it’s about making it work.
How long are you going to be in Australia for when you come over to Coffs?
We’re going to be over there for about 10 days. I think there are 15 of us going over there on our team, but we’re also hosting a New Zealand World Rally Team Tour, so we’re looking after about 70 Kiwis in total.
So, we’ve got a few people there and if we can bring home a good result, it will be good for everyone who’s over there supporting us.
So where do you see yourself in 5 years?
My ultimate goal is to be a World Rally Champion. It’s a long way away yet, but I believe it’s something we can do – and winning the PWRC this year will certainly be a step towards that. We’ve got a business plan in place, and obviously my own personal goals, and in 5 years I plan to be all the way to the top.
Well, it sounds like you’re on the right track!
So far anyway, but you know what motor sports can be like! It can turn on its head pretty quickly, so we’ve just got to keep working 100% and keep improving.
Thanks Hayden, and good luck with the rest of the championship.