REBUFFED by his former Hyundai team, New Zealander Hayden Paddon will make a sensational return to the FIA World Rally Championship in an M-Sport Ford Fiesta at next month’s Neste Rally Finland.
PHOTO: Hayden Paddon (left) and long-time co-driver John Kennard back together – in a Ford Fiesta – for Neste Rally Finland.
The Kiwi concluded a deal late last week and will test the car shortly before the rally in Jyväskylä on 1-4 August. He will be partnered by long-time co-driver John Kennard.
The deal came just two days after his former employer picked Irishman Craig Breen to drive its third car in Finland. Both Paddon and Breen have been on the WRC sidelines after losing their drives with Hyundai and Citroën respectively at the end of last season.
Paddon’s final drive for Hyundai was at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the New South Wales Coffs Coast last November, when he finished second.
He admitted he felt hurt by the decision to hire Breen. No longer prepared to wait for his WRC return, he contacted M-Sport, WRC.com reported.
“It has been really hard sitting at home watching the WRC unfold this year, especially as I know we can deliver at a high level. After the Hyundai Motorsport news last week, we decided to make things happen as we are not going to achieve anything by sitting around,” he said.
“Obviously I’m very excited to be back in the WRC and I’m excited to be working with M-Sport – it seems we are all on the same page, even in these early stages, which is a fantastic place to be.”
M-Sport Ford WRT principal Richard Millener said rally fans were looking forward to seeing Paddon back in the WRC, where he will represent the team in the season’s fastest rally along regular drivers Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen.
“It’s great to see Hayden back in the FIA World Rally Championship and we’re all excited to see what he can do behind the wheel of the Fiesta. He’s a proven rally winner and it’s great for us to have a driver of his calibre as we set our sights on another strong performance,” Millener said.
“The deal came together pretty quick, so it’s great that we were able to do something at short notice. Hayden is extremely determined and has the potential to deliver a really exciting performance.”
Paddon made his World Rally Car debut in a Fiesta RS WRC at the 2013 RallyRACC Rally de Espãna. As his career developed, he won Rally Argentina in 2016 and recorded his best Rally Finland result, fourth, last year.
He lost his Hyundai seat when Sébastien Loeb joined the Korean manufacturer for a part-time 2019 season, alongside team leader Thierry Neuville and sharing duties with regulars Andreas Mikkelsen and Dani Sordo.
Paddon has kept his hand in with a programme of Asia Pacific and New Zealand Rally Championship events. He is due to drive a privately-owned Hyundai i20 R5 car in the Asia Pacific section of the Eureka Rush rally in Ballarat on 24-25 August.
He thanked Hyundai New Zealand for supporting his decision to drive the Ford Fiesta in Finland.
“I have to say a huge thanks to the team at Hyundai New Zealand, who continue to support me fully,” he said.
“For them to have allowed us to chase this opportunity, it speaks volumes of how much they support my career and aspirations. It is truly humbling.
“We will be giving the rally 110 per cent. Obviously being out of WRC competition for eight months puts us a little on the back foot, but both John and I are confident we can hop in, prepare well and be near the front. A top five would be the minimum expectation from myself but as always, I will be pushing for more.
“The ultimate goal is to be back in the WRC more regularly in 2020. I’m in a good phase at the moment. I still have a lot I know I can achieve in the WRC, we just need that opportunity.”