Guest speaker . . . Rally driver Hayden Paddon was the guest speaker at the Waitaki Sports Awards last week. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

Rallying has taken Hayden Paddon all over the world, but he’ll 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 heartbreak of being dropped led him to create the world’s first electric rally car.

Hayden Paddon knows the value of coming from a small community.

It is what the New Zealand rally car driver credits for getting him to the top of his game.

‘‘For me, South Canterbury played a huge part,’’ Paddon said.

‘‘That local community, I’d almost go as far as saying . . . if we didn’t grow up and start in that area, we probably never would have got to where we did.’’

Growing up in Geraldine, Paddon started in the motorsport scene young, driving go-karts from age 6 and racing in a mini from age 12.

His father was involved in rallying, meaning Paddon grew up with the sport, but that never bothered him. Rallying became more than just a sport, it became his life, he said.

‘‘I think that’s what’s helped me get through a lot of the challenges we’ve had over the years . . . because in my eyes there was no other option in life.’’

At 13, the Timaru Herald wrote an article about Paddon driving his mini. It led to a radio interview in the Untied Kingdom, as for them, rallying at 13 was ‘‘unique’’.

‘‘Of course the community always knew what we were doing because the local newspaper would get in 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 quickly realised he would need more help. It taught him early the importance of sponsorship.
He set up his first ‘‘Shop Geraldine’’ campaign, asking businesses to sponsor him for $100 — and 13 businesses came on board and gave Paddon his start.

When another rally car burned to the ground after an accident at the Canterbury Rally, it was the South Canterbury community that came to the fore again.

The $30,000 rally car, which his father had just bought, was gone, and Paddon did not have the money for a replacement.

Paddon was feeling sorry for himself, but then started receiving calls from Timaru businesspeople offering support, and within two months, the community raised enough to get Paddon a better car and into the National Rally Championship in 2006.

‘‘It was not one of those things you look at at that time and go ‘this is good’ because it was never good, but when you look back on it and how it played out for the rest of the career and the steps we were able to make [by the community] embracing what we were doing — it was massive,’’ he said.

Paddon uses the phrase ‘‘we’’ a lot, rather than ‘‘I’’, because, as he says, there is a big team behind him.

After competing in the New Zealand Rally, Paddon received a scholarship for the World Rally Championship (WRC) in 2010.

The next year, his team funded $4 million in 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 used to tell me ‘you can’t do it, it’s impossible, it hasn’t been done before’ I’d be in the back of my mind saying, ‘I’m gonna show you’.’’

He did just that, raising $4 million in three years — 70% of which was raised in South Canterbury.

‘‘That’s why, for any sports people . . . I’d suggest to really embrace your local community.

Even when you’re competing on the other side of the world, trying to be a world champion, it all comes back to where you grow up.’’

After the ‘‘sweat and tears’’, Paddon received a contract with Hyundai Motorsport, leading him to win the WRC in Argentina, in 2016.

It was a ‘‘pinch yourself moment’’ but it would be his only WRC win to date, after crashing out in other legs.

‘‘The WRC win back in 2016 was a bit of a double-edged sword because while we’re incredibly proud to win the rally, there’s a part of me that goes I’m almost embarrassed to only win one because we had more in us.’’

It all came to an end in 2018 when two week before Christmas, Paddon’s WRC contract was pulled — four weeks out from the start of the season.

It was a gutting blow but it ignited something inside of him, he said.

‘‘I wasn’t done. I’m still not done.

‘‘I still feel like I’ve got a lot to give to the sport, it’s still my life. That fuelled the fire to come back to New Zealand and go, ‘Right, we’re doing to do this our way now, we’re going to do it the Kiwi way’.’’

Paddon gathered a team of the best engineers and technicians in New Zealand, based himself at Highlands Motorsport Park, in Cromwell, and began 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 head overseas for the first time in three years, competing in the second tier of the WRC.

As he returns overseas, Paddon knows his community will be right behind him.
‘‘Geraldine, for me, is home and it always will be home. I’ve really loved that.’’