Hayden Paddon, Gravel Guru

A generation after the world-beating deeds of the late Possum Bourne, rally star Hayden Paddon has once again put Kiwi drivers on the map.

The Hyundai driver has become a fixture on the world’s loose roads for the past four years and has been supremely competitive when all the stars align. In such a condensed sport at the high end, how did the kid from a racing-mad family in Geraldine make it to the top of his game?

Throughout his formative years in the bucket seat, the prodigy won everything he could in this part of the world, before methodically working his way through the gears to reach the top. Like his sport’s events, Paddon’s oft self-funded career has progressed through the stages, beginning his WRC journey in 2007. He would make noise on the international scene in 2011 when he changed from his Mitsubishi to a Subaru and more than took part in the full PWRC season. The supporting series to the WRC would be the launching pad for his progress to come, after winning four of the six rallies. The next step was a trying spell in the Skoda Fabia for two years until Paddon breached and had truly made it.

The 27-year-old finally became a fully fledged WRC madman in 2014 with Hyundai after seven seasons paying his dues in the companion series. He was competitive from the outset and would record his first-ever stage win at the Rally Catalunya in Spain. Better things were to come after his first full season, and four events into the 2015 season, he had his breakthrough moment. Multiple stage wins gave him a brief taste of the lead at the Rally d’Italia, only for Sebastian Ogier to edge him into second. It would be the first time a Kiwi would lead a WRC rally since icon Bourne in the Rally of New Zealand in 1999. A follow-up fourth for Paddon in Poland and a run of healthy finishes proved he very much belonged in this stellar company.

In 2016, Paddon was, for the most part, a picture of consistency when his car stayed on the track and he never dropped below sixth after a season-opening blow-out at Monte Carlo. His fourth place finish overall was decorated by a first-ever WRC Rally win in Argentina that also avenged his Italian loss to Ogier. While Paddon’s Hyundai couldn’t get through the next two events post his maiden win, he regained his grip for the run home with a string of top-half finishes.

With confidence high, Paddon’s 2017 took an ugly turn at the first rally, when an error at Monte Carlo tragically cost a spectator their life. Paddon withdrew out of respect. Momentum was hard to come by in the early rounds and to make matters frustratingly worse, his car wouldn’t complete three of the next four meets. The only break he caught was a second in Poland; his third consecutive top-four finish there. With three events left in 2017, Paddon may not be in a position to challenge for the final podium, but he has most definitely announced his candidacy when he gets it right.