By Ross Teesdale
In December 2009 I interviewed Chris Paddon and caught up with things at Team Green. For about 15 years I provided a monthly column to the late John Hawkins NZ Racer magazine. I miss the monthly mag but enjoy Jase’s A Little Bit Sideways website and have given him this exclusively to provide a little summer read.
Below is the interview followed by a few observations written today.
Chris Paddon has been around Rallying for many years. Back in the 90’s Chris was a regular competitor in the Mainland Series and also did a number of seasons in the National Championship in a variety of 1600 cc Toyota’s. Over this time there was one team member who was always there and would not be left at home for any money – young Hayden Paddon. From being a keen little kid holding on to his Dad Chris’s hand, to today when he is twice National Rally Champion and embarking on an International Career – Hayden knew what he wanted – to drive rally cars fast.
We had a chat with Chris to get some insight into New Zealand’s hottest young Rally talent.
RT – I guess you knew from the early days that Hayden was very focused on becoming a Rally Champion?
CP – He did spend many hours watching world rally videos, building rally tracks and racing his matchbox cars and generally living and breathing rallying from a very early age, so I did suspect he was possibly a little one eyed and yes when I look back, he was very focused even then.
RT – Back in 2003 you told me you thought Hayden was already faster than his Dad. He was only 16 then. Were you surprised how quickly Hayden took to driving so fast?
CP – I believe this discussion took place at the Westland rally that Hayden was using my Corolla in, on a fast sweeping right hander. It is the first time I had watched him from the outside on an event and after he passed at a similar pace to the guys at the front of the field, I thought, this guys fast for a new boy. At this same moment yourself Ross put your head over my shoulders and said “that boys fast” and I said “yes, already faster than his dad”.
Another clear memory I have of Hayden’s early days was when he was 15 and I took him to his first shingle sprint in my Corolla. We had turn about and after a couple of runs; I jumped in with Hayden for a run. After a few corners I said to him, you can carry more speed on the corners as this is where you can gain a lot of time. The next run he beat my time which is how it stayed until the end of the day. It’s the last advice I gave him which is lucky for him as my generally exuberant driving style and habits of off road excursions would not have allowed him to develop his own smooth fast style as he has.
RT – Team Green set a three year goal at the start of 2006 to win the NZ Rally Championship and Hayden achieved that in 2008 aged just 21. He also came second by just one point in 2007 proving the goal was no day dream. On the outside it seemed Hayden did it easily. What were some of the challenges the team faced along the way?
CP – Maybe it did look easy on the event because most of the effort went in before the event with preparation, testing, sourcing funding and analysing what could be improved on from the last event in both the car and drivers performance. The biggest challenge is everyone finding time to do all this.
RT – Hayden continues to impress everyone with his results. Rally Australia 2009 must be a highlight, winning the Pirelli Star Driver entry for 2010 and beating home the best Group N drivers in the World. Do you feel that the movers and shakers of world rallying have noticed Hayden yet?
CP – It would be nice to think so but a lot of the movers and shakers consider, Australia as a local rally for us, so next year is very import for Hayden to show what he’s got on their home turf.
RT – Do you think the Pirelli Program in 2010 will move Hayden further forward? What are the goals for 2010?
CP – He would like to finish on the PWRC (Production World Rally Championship) podium on a regular basis but more generally the goal is to plan and secure a drive in the PWRC championship for 2011. We also intend to compete in our own EVO9 in Rally NZ and Japan which we means we qualify to score points for the PWRC. The Pirelli program will cover the other events in the PWRC and it’s the break he needs to get onto the world stage. Without it, his chances of making it to the top of the sport would be very difficult.
RT – We are all hoping the Pirelli Program will go well for Hayden and he will prove himself to be a potential World Champion. What are your hopes for 2011 and beyond for Hayden.
CP – A drive in a manufacturer’s team is a real possibility due to other manufactures’ due to enter the sport when the world rally car specifications change in 2011. I do believe we have a real possibility of seeing the first ever NZ world rally champion in the near future.
RT – Rallying is expensive and while you have many firms providing some support, your own company Paddon Direct is still Hayden’s major backer. How hard has it been for you to run your business and also dedicate the time and money for Hayden’s career?
CP – It’s not all it seems. The team runs on the smell of an oily rag and 100s of hours of voluntary time by our small team, Math, Neil, AD, John and Hayden as well as so many others. I do support Hayden as much as I can but most of the funding is actually from a number of smaller sponsors and supporters that Hayden has worked very hard to secure and retain over the years. Dedicating my time is a pleasure as I enjoy this sport as much as Hayden and you could almost say; I also live for the next rally.
RT – Navigator John Kennard has enormous international experience including managing the Mitsubishi World Rally Team.
a/ How did you interest John in sitting with and supporting Hayden?
b/ Do you feel the balance betweens Hayden’s young enthusiasm and John’s worldly wisdom is a big part of the team’s success?
CP – We were a little lucky I think because at the time we asked John, he had been out of rallying for a little while and he was starting to miss it so you could say we came along at the right time. After the first event with Hayden, he could see some real talent and has been behind his development from that day. They both have a lot of respect for each other. John and Hayden struck up a real friendship from day one and yes, John’s worldly wisdom and talents have definitely been a big part of Hayden’s development and successes. We are so lucky that John is part of our team and he is committed to going all the way with Hayden.
RT – Rallying is a big team effort – who else would you like to thank?
CP – There are just so many to name all over NZ who have been so generous with there time, funding and support. Over the years, we have also had a lot of support and advice and help from guys that have been and still are at the top of the sport like Geoff Argyle, Reece Jones and Neil Allport who have all added hugely to Hayden’s and our cars development. Two other guys, my best friend Math and Hayden’s best friend Neil have been such a huge part of Team Green spending 1000’s of hours on the cars over the year and without a doubt are a huge part of Hayden’s success. They have also had 100% faith in Hayden’s ability’s to rise to the top of the sport from the days when Hayden raced grass track go-carts. Jackie my wife has always helped out in many ways but most importantly supports me 100% and accepts the time spent away from home to follow my dream.
RT – please feel free to add any other comments you feel are relevant or interesting.
CP – An exciting development due to be launched is a Company set up to allow supporters and investors to buy shares in Hayden. This Company will manage and fund Hayden’s career to give him the best chance of achieving our goals. If he is lucky enough to find himself in the position which rewards with lucrative salary’s and personal endorsement, this company will not only be a fun way of following and supporting a Kiwi on the world stage but possibly financially rewarding. Give me a call if you would like further information.
Thanks Ross for the opportunity to share my story with you.
December 2015 Update
Hayden no longer needs any introduction. Yes Hayden did become our first World Rallying Champion – 2011 PWRC World Champion. He won another NZ Championship as well, in his spare time in 2013 and having entered only 4 of the 6 rounds due to his overseas commitments. He has also shown he can drive a rear drive MK2 Escort BDA like no one else – winning the 2015 Rally of Otago outright. And of course he starts his new three year contract with Hyundai WRC in January at Monte Carlo.
The WRC world has sat up and taken notice of Hayden – the international media are watching him and the NZ Media have woken up to his international status. There were plenty of naysayers spreading rumours of demise along the way, but Hayden just keeps ticking the boxes and gaining more and more fans.
Everyone has noticed that Hayden is a down to earth guy. There is no arrogance to be found on his side of the garage. He wins fans and friends wherever he goes and I will bet that his mechanics and other team personnel like him a lot as well.
I was speaking to Hayden at an event we both entered last year before he had his first Hyundai drive. I made a comment that ”it’s going to be hard to win my class today when Rock Star’s like you turn up Hayden” His quick reply “I am not a Rock Star” my answer “but you will be” He is now most definitely a Rock Star of World Rallying, but still the same humble guy he has always been.
It may never have happened
The Pirelli Star driver scheme gave Hayden a spring board into the WRC but it may never have happened. Everyone understood the points scoring system and Hayden was up the front in the qualifying rounds. At the final the points would all rest on day one (Friday) at Rally Australia 2009. If Hayden was in first place of the Pirelli entrants on day one, he would win the 2010 scholarship.
He achieved that with relative ease and we expected him to be awarded the Pirelli scholarship on Friday once his result was confirmed. But it did not happen and the FIA then announced that they would also test the entrants on things like media presentation and some other subjective categories.
Now we all know Hayden has all the PR and Media skills that anyone could ask for, but the announcement was delayed until Saturday. New Zealander Mark Tapper had won the 2009 Pirelli Scholarship and there was a real worry that some international lobbying and behind closed doors diplomacy may rob Hayden of the Pirelli Scholarship. Some suggested they did not appear to want another New Zealander to win.
Talking to Chris Paddon some months later, Chris admitted he had a sleepless night waiting for the announcement. Now perhaps Hayden would have got where he has anyway – or perhaps not. But the right decision was made. It is horrible to think that this one decision could have denied Hayden the opportunity that he has made so much from.
Well no – but it feels a bit like it. Hayden is going out there and doing what so many of us have dreamed of and what over the years I hoped many others may do – but did not.
It’s a bit like watching the Lotto draw watching Hayden’s splits and stage times come through from overseas. When the numbers are good the excitement builds as we wait for the next number. Every stage win is like a small Lotto win and we wait for the day Hayden will get all the numbers for us.
The best bit is that unlike my chances of winning big in Lotto, Hayden will get those WRC Rally wins and having ticked all the boxes along the way you can bet the WRC World Champions Crown will be ticked also, probably more than once.