Kiwi Hayden Paddon dreams of the day when he will be able to take more risks as he hurtles round the rally roads of the world.
The reigning world production champion, Paddon starts Brother Rally New Zealand on Friday standing second in the S2000 class, the category immediately below the top-level world rally cars.
One of the secrets of his success so far is that he hardly ever crashes – he just keeps finishing the rallies and piling up the points. He cites Bruce McLaren's dictum: "To finish first, first you must finish."
The Geraldine driver, 25, takes that approach for two reasons: first, he wants to make his name by winning championships; and second, crashes cost money and his budget is very limited.
"Anything we can do to save a dollar goes a long way," Paddon says. "Those top factory drivers don't have to worry about things like that – they can just go out and drive 110 per cent and risk everything to try to get the result. We're not quite in that position yet.
"A lot of the time we are driving within ourselves – there's a lot more to come."
To reach his full potential, Paddon needs to get into a factory team.
"We're budgeting for the next 18 months to be the most crucial in my career, to try and get us to a point where we try and secure a [factory] seat for 2014," he says.
Paddon's talent, combining speed and consistency, has certainly been noticed. In its review of the 2011 championship the authoritative British magazine Autosport named the Kiwi among its top 10 drivers of the year – ahead of many competing in the higher categories.
Factory seat numbers are growing. Rivals Ford and Citroen have been joined by Mini, and Volkswagen is entering next year.
"There could be five or six [factory teams], there's talk of Asian car manufacturers now coming back into the sport which for us would be great because a lot of the cars sold in New Zealand are Asian brands," Paddon says.
In the meantime he is enjoying driving his Skoda Fabia, run by Spanish team ASM Motorsport. It is significantly faster and more advanced than the production-class cars he has driven till now.
"It's basically a proper race car, it does everything you want it to and it's definitely a dream to drive," he says.
"In terms of straight-line speed it's not a whole lot faster than a Group N [production] car because they are a two-litre normally aspirated engine but the chassis is a lot more superior. They're lighter and much more nimble, more responsive to changes.
"The only difference between our car and a world rally car is that they have a big rear wing and they've got a turbo, so we're about 50 horsepower down."
Skoda used to be the butt of jokes in New Zealand, regarded as cheap and nasty cars built in communist Czechoslovakia. Things are different now.
"They're obviously owned by the Volkswagen group and we joined Skoda this year so we could get those connections in with Volkswagen," Paddon explains. "But in terms of a road car, they're basically an Audi in disguise."
Rally New Zealand is the best in the world, he reckons.
"The roads are so smooth. A lot of the places you go to, you do get a lot of rough sections. Sometimes you just can't go flat out all the time, you have to look after the car as well.
"With the roads here, none of that – the biggest rock you get on a road here is the size of a marble. The roads in New Zealand are basically driver's roads, you drive them as fast as you can and you don't have to worry about the car so much.
"The priority for the weekend is to try to win S2000 and put us in a good position in the championship. A top 10 overall result would be good as well, amongst the world rally cars."
Rallying is expensive and it is very difficult to fund overseas campaigns from within New Zealand.
Paddon has recently secured backing form Enzed and the Z fuel chain but still needs more cash to complete the season.
"We've been lucky, we've had a lot of good supporters come on board for Rally New Zealand. But we still have quite a big shortfall. It's not easy but we were in a similar position last year and we were able to make it happen.
"I'm doing what I love doing, which is driving rally cars."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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