Champion driver’s return a mixed bag

Hometown hero . . . Hayden Paddon shows off his Hyundai I20 AP4 Mitre at 10 Interschool Pushcart race to Sacred Heart pupils (from left) Hans Prosch, 12 and Dylan Coe, 12. PHOTOS: CONNOR HALEY

Rally racer and hometown hero Hayden Paddon returned to his old stomping grounds last week, showing his support and Hyundai I20 AP4 rally car to the next generation of South Canterbury racing stars.

Attending the third annual Mitre 10 Interschool Pushcart race, Paddon was all smiles coming off the back of a stellar European Rally Championship (ERU) victory, becoming the first non-European to win the championship and a seventh New Zealand Rally title.

He said it was always good to come back home and see the kids race.

‘‘I’ve been down a couple of times now and we’ve seen in the past it’s something that everyone really enjoys and gets the schools involved and is a way for Mitre 10 to give back to the community.

‘‘It’s good fun and it’s cool seeing all the enthusiasm the kids have in building their own carts and getting to racing.’’

Paddon, who grew up in Geraldine and attended Grantlea Primary School and Timaru Boys’ High School, is recognised as New Zealand’s most successful rally drivers in history.

Serious horsepower . . .Hayden Paddon’s Hyundai I20 AP4 was the first ever New Zealand developed Hyundai rally car and debuted back in 2016. He used this car to set the new record at Horsepower Hill last weekend.

His list of achievements includes one World Rally Championship (WRC) rally win, winning the Argentina rally in 2016, eight WRC podiums, and more than 40 WRC stage victories. He was also the 2011 Production World Rally Champion, becoming the first person in the southern hemisphere to ever win a world rally championship.

He is now also a seven-time New Zealand Rally champion and has received many other national accolades.

Paddon said his latest ERU win was the highest accolade he had achieved over an entire championship.

‘‘It’s what our target was, but a lot of work went in behind the scenes to make it happen and obviously the competition was very, very tough, so to tick it off was certainly something we are pretty proud of.

‘‘It’s been a busy year also with other events in New Zealand and continuing with the EV project, there is lots going on and now it’s just seeing how we can build on this towards next year.’’

Ahead of the Waimate 50 rally Paddon said he always enjoyed coming back to South Canterbury and owed a lot to the region.

‘‘It’s good to come here after the rally season is finished and relax I guess at home, this is still home for me and of course after we missed the Waimate 50 last year and the Timaru Rally this year, it’s nice to come back to South Canterbury and do an event.

‘‘We wouldn’t have achieved what we did on the world stage without the support of South Canterbury, they’ve always got right in behind us right back from the Mini days, even back to when our car burned to the ground and even when we were in the WRC trying to fund it, a lot of the funding came out of South Canterbury so I’ll be forever grateful for what this region has done and for that reason I’ll always be out to support events in this region.’’

Hot seat . . . A look inside Paddon’s Hyundai I20 AP4, the car was built and developed by Paddon Rallysport along with fabricator Andrew Hawkeswood of Force Motorsport.

Taking part in the Mount Shop Horsepower Hill 2023 Paddon said he was very much looking forward to battling it out with fellow rally driver Sloan Cox who managed to beat Paddon’s previous record on the course which he set in 2021.

‘‘Whenever Sloan and I are competing together in these hill climbs, with these high horse powers cars it’s a lot of fun, it’s all about making sure the cars can hold on the whole way because they are highly strung with this amount of power.

‘‘Sloan has the record, he did very well there last year and it’s going to be close but as a competitor and a driver, that’s what you love, you love close competition so I’m sure it will be the same this week.’’

The weekend proved to be a mixed bag for Paddon.

The course record would be broken three times over the course of the event, twice by Sloan Cox and then by Paddon who once again claims the record at Horsepower Hill with an impressive 01:52:85 beating Cox’s previous record of 01:57:14.

He would complete five qualifying runs before being taken out due to suspension damage.

The event would go on to be won by Cox overall, with Paddon unable to compete in the top 10 shootout.