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FOLLOWING an impressive performance on Coates Hire Rally Australia less than two weeks ago, young Kiwi driver Hayden Paddon has been invited by the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team to step up to the FIA World Rally Championship’s highest level at next month’s Rally de España.

Paddon, 26, and co-driver John Kennard will compete in a Ford Fiesta RS WRC, becoming the first of their countrymen to pilot a new-generation, top-specification rally car.

M-Sport are well known for fostering young talent and Paddon’s impressive performances of late meant the British-based team was keen to see him progress.

Despite contesting just three events so far in 2013, the Kiwi has been a regular on the WRC2 podium and has become accustomed to over-shadowing those in more powerful machinery.

Nowhere was that more apparent than at Rally Australia. Although a technical issue put paid to a strong result, Paddon posted a top-10 time on all but one stage contested and was continuously faster than numerous WRC contenders.

As he makes the move to rallying’s most prestigious league, the New Zealander is keeping his feet firmly on the ground with his main goal a simple one – to finish all of the stages in search of maximum experience. That said, his hopes of setting some top-five times are well within reach.

Those ambitions will be aided by a pre-event test with M-Sport in the lead up to Rally de España, on which he is no novice. Having driven the mixed-surface event in anger for the past two years, Paddon will be hoping his experience pays dividends.

Hayden Paddon said:

“To say I’m excited is an understatement, but I am also focused on ensuring that we make the most of this opportunity. Naturally I want to be competitive and we will be giving it our utmost to set some good stage times, but it is also important to finish the rally and gain as much experience as possible.

“After some discussions, we were offered this great opportunity and it’s amazing to finally get our chance in a top-specification car. While it has been a lot of hard work to get to this point, we are conscious that the level of hard work will only increase as this is very much our chance to showcase what we can do.

“Ultimately, I don’t want to be in a world rally car for just one event. This is what I want to make my career out of and we are trying to market ourselves for 2014. This amazing opportunity with such a respected team as M-Sport gives us that chance.

“I cannot thank everyone in New Zealand enough. From our partners and shareholders, who are behind me all the way, to my family, friends and fellow competitors; everyone has had such a big part to play and now we have our chance.”

Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:

“I am very pleased to welcome Hayden [Paddon] into the Qatar M-Sport team for Rally de España. His speed in Australia was impressive and this is his opportunity to prove what he can do behind the wheel of a world rally car. He is in the best possible place to learn with Thierry [Neuville], Mads [Østberg] and Evgeny [Novikov] all there to offer advice and experience on how to tackle a world rally car debut.

“There is no doubt that Hayden is an extremely fast driver, and I am looking forward to seeing how he progresses through the weekend. Needless to say, I am delighted that we have been able to offer him this opportunity.”

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.