KENNARDS Hire Rally Australia 2018 runner-up Hayden Paddon says he won’t contest the FIA World Rally Championship next year after his former team Hyundai Motorsport signed nine-time champion Sébastien Loeb.
PHOTO: Hayden Paddon built a massive group of fans, seen here congratulating him after his second place at Kennards Hire Rally Australia (Jaanus Ree/WRC Media pic)
Paddon, the only regular Asia-Pacific competitor at WRC elite level during the past five seasons, announced his fate on social media.
He had hoped to share the third car in the Hyundai Shell Mobis squad with Dani Sordo, as he did in 2018, but the Korean manufacturer’s sensational signing of Loeb after 20 years with Citroën and Peugeot appeared to change the picture virtually overnight.
“Unfortunately there will be no WRC for us in 2019 as there are no opportunities. After the signing of Sébastien Loeb we’ve been left high and dry – a seat/position which was planned we had after several months of discussions,” Paddon said.
“Naturally we are very disappointed but at the same time understand that can be the reality of professional sport. We can be proud of what we achieved and hold our head high.”
Hyundai was Paddon’s only realistic option for 2019, with M-Sport Ford looking increasingly likely to retain Elfyn Evans alongside Teemu Suninen, WRC.com reported.
Paddon spent five seasons with Hyundai, claiming his first and only WRC win in Argentina in 2016. He achieved a total of eight podium places and 48 stage wins. He also developed a large and intensely loyal following among his countrymen, who turned out to cheer him at rallies around the world, including in Australia.
The low point in his Hyundai career came when his car hit a spectator on the 2017 Rallye Monte-Carlo. The spectator later died, but Paddon was ruled to be not at fault.
He ended his time with the team by finishing second at Rally Australia last month, but amid doubts already about his future, pledged he would remain in the sport.
“Rallying is in my blood and it’s just a matter to regroup and plan the next steps. We have some nice ideas/projects that we will try and put in place to take on the world with our own Kiwi team. I’m still competitive, I’m still motivated, I still want to drive and I still want to win,” he said.
“Of course I feel like we could have achieved more but you can’t spend life reflecting on the ‘what-ifs’.”