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WRC Pilot Talks About Life on the Road and What It Takes to Beat the Best

by fatweb

Fourteen to 16 hours per day, temperatures of up to 55 to 60 degrees Celsius and speeds of up to 220km/h; that’s a typical day in the life of 29 year old World Rally Championship (WRC) driver Hayden Paddon. 
The South Cantabrian just notched a major milestone – not only for himself but for our little nation – when he became the first New Zealander ever to win a leg of the WRC.
So how exactly does one get from small-town New Zealand onto the WRC circuit, let alone winning a stage of it? For Hayden, rallying isn’t just a sport, nor is it a hobby or occupation. It’s a vocation, a way of life… and the only way of life he wants to know.
Racing is Hayden’s blood. His father Chris was a rally driver long before Hayden was born, and while Hayden felt no pressure to follow in his father’s footsteps, he certainly felt a desire to.
His earliest memories of racing evoke an exuberant, youthful side of him. “I remember racing go-karts at the local family kart club when I was nine, getting covered in mud and trying to win as many trophies as I could,” Hayden recalls.
“But this also stretched into practising on the back lawn nearly every weekend, ripping up the grass.”
He started out in go-karts at the age of six and by the age of 12, as soon as he was old enough to obtain his motorsport license, he made the move to cars. From there his hunger for the sport only intensified.
The early years 
In 2002 at the age of 15, the same week he’d passed his learner’s driver license, Hayden competed in his first rally, Rally Hamner.
He went on to compete in the New Zealand Rally Championship in 2006, winning both the junior and rookie titles, and in 2007 made his WRC debut as a wildcard entry at the Production World Rally Championship event in New Zealand, retaining his junior title and coming within one point of winning the championship outright, a title he would go on to claim the following year.
But 2009 was a particularly significant year in the amateur’s career. Not only did he retain his New Zealand title, but he also won the Pacific Cup and qualified for the Pirelli Star Driver Asia-Pacific final at Rally Australia, with the fastest time of the opening stage. This earned him the Pirelli Star Driver scholarship, a fully-funded programme for six events of the 2010 WRC season.
Not surprisingly he was also the worthy recipient of a $50,000 Rising Stars scholarship through Rally New Zealand, which gave him the crucial funding needed to complete his 2010 PWRC campaign.

“It’s not as glamorous as everyone thinks – we spend very little time in NZ, a lot of time in airports and we are away from family and friends for 11 months of the year.”

He solidified his capability at international level by finishing ninth overall and ahead of all the PWRC regulars.
“It was always a dream to be a WRC driver, but it was not until we won the Pirelli scholarship that I believed that it was possible,” he says.
Geraldine’s backcountry had certainly proved the perfect landscape for a young Hayden to hone his talents. Between its gentle rolling hills and its winding shingle roads, it’s little wonder that gravel came to be Hayden’s favourite surface to compete on.
“It certainly helped growing up in the country, racing around on the paddocks in the farm and occasionally taking the long way to school or work via some back roads”.

“I remember racing go-karts at the local family kart club when I was nine, getting covered in mud and trying to win as many trophies as I could.”

But more than its unique geography, it was the support of the Geraldine community that helped spawn and shape Hayden’s career. “Coming from a small town helped me, as everyone knew what I was doing; 90 percent of the businesses in the town helped me and everyone was supportive. It was amazing.
“After the scholarship year in 2010 we had to fund our own campaign to stay in the WRC in 2011, and we knew if we disappeared that we would never get back again.”
He set about establishing Hayden Paddon Rallysport Global Ltd – a conglomerate of generous locals who recognised Hayden’s talent and dedication, and were all too happy to provide the financial backing that would help see the young man realise his dreams.
“Thanks to a group of dedicated South Canterbury businessmen and shareholders, we were able to get together the funding for the 2011 season, and we repaid the faith and trust people put in us by winning the PWRC that year.
“It was a crucial year for the future.”
Life on the road 
“Driving a rally car is not like a road car – long three day events (up to 14-16 hours competing per day), high temperatures (up to 55-60 degrees in the car on hot events), high adrenalin and a high pressure environment means the body is under pressure to perform at the highest level,” says Hayden.
Training is therefore focused on a lot of areas – cardio fitness, strength, balance, mental training and psyche. “Each day would be made up of 2-3 hours physical training, up to one hour mental training, along with study work of the next upcoming event.”
In 2015 Hayden signed a contract to stay with Hyundai Motorsport until the end of 2018. It’s a valued partnership; one that Hayden believes can win the WRC.
While Hyundai Motorsport is made up of roughly 200 people of nationalities from all around the world, Hayden’s direct team is a much smaller affair involving just himself, his co-driver of 11 years, John Kennard and his fiancé and PR guru Katie.
“It’s like a family within the team and our partnership with Hyundai NZ, and I believe we can win the WRC with them.”
But it won’t be without challenge and sacrifice.
“It’s not as glamorous as everyone thinks – we spend very little time in NZ, a lot of time in airports and we are away from family and friends for 11 months of the year. Being part of a professional team is very different compared to when back in New Zealand running the team with family and friends.”
There are still three remaining events of the season: Spain then Great Britten, and the final event, in Australia in November.
The WRC certainly absorbs most of his time but he’s not complaining, rather saying he’s “living the dream and working towards the ultimate goal”.
And that’s not to say there’s no time for personal endeavours. Hayden is working on some exciting projects for the future, as well as looking forward to tying the knot with fiancée Katie in the next year or two.
Despite having travelled to and experienced many exotic locations, Hayden still believes New Zealand is the best place in the world.
He makes the most of his time spent at home by visiting family and friends and, if there’s time, squeezing in some mountain biking and a few rounds of golf.
Paying it forward 
Given the amount of success he’s enjoyed you’d be forgiven for thinking Hayden mightn’t be humble, but you’d be wrong. His unassuming persona is unwavering.
He regards both his co-driver and fiancée as integral to his success, and the same goes for those who have joined him and stuck by him on his ambitious journey.
“Rally has given me a lot and I would not be where I am without the help hundreds of people have given me. I want to see the sport grow and to give something back in a small way.”
He’s been hard at work since the beginning of 2016 establishing the Paddon Rally Foundation with the vision of growing rally sport in New Zealand.
Recognising that he wouldn’t be where he is without the immense support and guidance of many, the Paddon Rally Foundation is set up to attract new competitors to the sport and provide a support network that helps develop talent.
“It’s in its early stages but we will be accepting applications at the end of this year and the target is to assist many competitors each year of all levels – to encourage more people into the sport and keep people in the sport.
“Rallying is not just a sport for me; it’s a life and a passion.”
By Lydia Truesdale 

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