Rallying has taken Hayden Paddon all over the world, but he will never forget his roots. Kayla Hodge reports on his speech at last week’s Waitaki Sports Awards, in which he shared the impact South Canterbury has had on his life, driving in the World Rally Championship, and how the heartache of being left behind l led to the creation of the world’s first electric rally car.
Hayden Paddon knows the value of coming from a small community.
That’s what the New Zealand rally driver credits the New Zealand rally driver for taking him to the top of his game.
“For me, South Canterbury has been huge,” Paddon said.
”This local community, I would almost say. . . if we hadn’t grown up and started in this field, we probably never would have arrived where we arrived.
Growing up in Geraldine, Paddon started young on the motorsport scene, driving go-karts from the age of 6 and racing in a mini from the age of 12.
His father was involved in rallying, which means Paddon grew up with the sport, but it never bothered him. Rallying has become more than just a sport, it has become his life, he said.
“I think that’s what helped me overcome a lot of the challenges we’ve had over the years. . . because in my eyes there was no other choice in life.”
At 13, the Timaru Herald wrote an article about Paddon driving his mini. It prompted a radio interview in the UK, meanwhile, rallying at 13 was ‘unique’.
”Of course the community always knew what we were doing because the local newspaper was getting behind you. If you’re in Wellington, or Auckland, or Christchurch, you just wouldn’t have that.’
Paddon worked three jobs to help fund his first rally car, but soon realized he would need more help. It taught him early on the importance of sponsorship.
He set up his first “Shop Geraldine” campaign, asking companies to sponsor him for $100 – and 13 companies joined in and gave Paddon his go.
When another rally car burned after an accident at the Canterbury rally, it was the community of South Canterbury that came to the fore again.
The $30,000 rally car his dad had just bought was missing and Paddon didn’t have the money to replace it.
Paddon felt sorry for himself, but then started getting calls from Timaru’s businessmen offering support, and within two months the community raised enough to give Paddon a better car and compete in the championship. National Rally in 2006.
“It wasn’t one of those things that you look at in that moment and say ‘it’s good’ because it was never good, but when you look back on it and how it went for the rest of the career and the stages we were able to do [by the community] embracing what we were doing – that was huge,” he said.
Paddon uses the phrase ‘we’ rather than ‘I’ a lot because, as he says, there’s a big team behind him.
After competing in Rally New Zealand, Paddon received a scholarship to the World Rally Championship (WRC) in 2010.
The following year, his team funded $4 million over three years to stay on the world stage.
It had never been done before, and people told Paddon it was not possible for a New Zealander to be in the WRC.
“When people were telling me ‘you can’t do it, it’s impossible, it’s never been done’, I was in the back of my mind saying, ‘I’ll show you’.”
He did just that, raising $4 million over three years, 70% of which was raised in South Canterbury.
”That’s why, for all sportsmen. . . I would suggest really embracing your local community.
Even when you’re competing halfway around the world, trying to be world champion, it all comes back to where you grew up.
After “sweat and tears”, Paddon received a contract with Hyundai Motorsport, leading him to win the WRC in Argentina in 2016.
It was a “pinch moment”, but it would be his only WRC win to date, after crashing in other stages.
“Winning the WRC in 2016 was a bit of a double-edged sword because although we are incredibly proud to win the rally, there is a part of me that goes, I’m almost embarrassed to only win it.” one because we had more in us.’
It all came to an end in 2018 when two weeks before Christmas Paddon’s WRC contract was withdrawn – with four weeks to go until the start of the season.
It was a blow, but it ignited something inside him, he said.
”I had not finished. I still haven’t finished.
”I always feel like I have a lot to give to sport, it’s still my life. It fueled the fire to come back to New Zealand and say, ‘Well, we’re doing this our way now, we’re going to do it the Kiwi way’. ”
Paddon assembled a team of New Zealand’s finest engineers and technicians, set up shop at Highlands Motorsport Park, Cromwell, and set about creating the world’s first electric rally car. The car was launched in 2020 and Paddon raced it at last year’s Waimate 50.
In a few weeks, Paddon’s team will travel overseas for the first time in three years, competing in the second tier of the WRC.
When he returns overseas, Paddon knows his community will be right behind him.
”Géraldine, for me, it’s my home and it will always be my home. I absolutely loved it.”