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WRC winner Paddon no longer chasing top-level rally return

World Rally Championship event winner Hayden Paddon says he is no longer chasing a return to rallying’s top tier and will focus on programmes in Europe and New Zealand this year.  

Hayden Paddon, Hyundai i20 N Rally2

The former factory Hyundai driver had hoped to return to the WRC after losing his drive with the South Korean marque at the end of 2018, but has been unable to return to top-flight competition since.

The 2016 Rally Argentina winner was set to join M-Sport for selected rounds in Finland and Australia in 2019 although a testing crash ruled him out of the former, while the latter was cancelled due to bushfires in New South Wales.

Paddon had been working on a bid to drive a Rally1 car at his home round in New Zealand last year but the plans failed to come to fruition.

The New Zealander’s name was mentioned as a potential candidate to re-join Hyundai’s factory outfit for this year following Ott Tanak’s departure to M-Sport, although the 35-year-old confirmed to Autosport that he didn’t enter into any discussions with the team.

Last year Paddon took part in three rounds in WRC2 last year but this year he’s elected to contest rounds in the European Rally Championship, driving a Hyundai i20 Rally2, alongside a programme in his native New Zealand.  

“I’m going to be massively busy with a full European campaign and a New Zealand campaign and a lot of back-to-back events both sides of the world, so I’m probably going to be pretty puffed by the time I get to the end of the year," Paddon, who won last month’s ERC opener in Portugal, told Autosport.

“I’m obviously in a different part of my career now, I’m not trying to get back in the WRC. 

“When you are young you do the whole WRC and WRC2 thing to try and get attention but that ship has sailed now obviously, so I have chosen a programme that I will enjoy more and is a little bit more budget-friendly for us. 

“The massive appeal for the ERC is the fact that you can win rallies outright and in WRC2 you are in a class. I like winning so I want to be winning rallies and not just the class. 

Hayden Paddon, Sebastian Marshall, Hyundai i20 WRC, Hyundai Motorsport

Hayden Paddon, Sebastian Marshall, Hyundai i20 WRC, Hyundai Motorsport

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

“There were never any discussions [with Hyundai for 2023]. I’m a pretty realistic person and when you have been out of the game for four or five years it is so much tougher to get back in. 

“I was pretty dark about the whole WRC thing after it happened in 2019, but I’m in a much happier place in my life now. I like being back in New Zealand and my preference was to stay living there and travel back and forth and I love that we are doing it with our own team.” 

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While Paddon says his focus is now away from the WRC, he admits that an opportunity to contest Rally New Zealand in a top-level WRC car is still on his wishlist. 

“I’m not holding out for anything that could come up, but of course if there was an opportunity you would be silly not to look at something, but I’m staying focused on the things I can control,” he added.

“The one big thing I would still like to do, is if Rally New Zealand does come back again, is to do it in a WRC car. We were trying to make that happen last year and it didn’t come to fruition. Doing my home round in a WRC car would be a dream come true.”    

Paddon is entered to contest the second round of the ERC, Rally Islas Canarias, from 5-6 May. 

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