Kiwi rally driver Hayden Paddon has three more chances to press his claims for a new WRC contract for 2019 and beyond.
The 30-year-old is competing in a reduced role with the factory Hyundai team and will be under pressure to retain his spot for 2019. The relationship between the one-time WRC winner and the Korean manufacturer has been rocky over the past 12 months and Paddon openly admits to driving for himself this season.
With contract negotiations usually starting mid-year Paddon feels he has three more rallies to prove himself.
“After Finland [in July] is when we start talking whether it be with Hyundai or other teams,” Paddon told The Herald.
“By then we would have done four of our seven rallies so we are more than half way through our season so it is a good time to start those discussions.
“All the rallies are important but the next three are extra important in terms of future discussions.”
Now in his fifth season with Hyundai, Paddon has developed a strong association with the brand, particularly at home in New Zealand where he runs an i20 in the New Zealand Rally Championship. His Paddon Rallysport team announced this week a five-round assault on the domestic championship and he has expressed a desire to grow the team to two i20 AP4+ cars in 2019.
But at WRC level Paddon is not as happy. The team didn’t back him when they signed Andreas Mikkelsen midway through last season, essentially forcing him into a shared drive with veteran Spaniard Dani Sordo for 2018.
There have been other issues that have caused friction within the team as well and it wouldn’t surprise if Paddon jumped at an opportunity elsewhere if one presented itself.
“It is obviously not straight-forward,” Paddon said of continuing the relationship with Hyundai. “We have built a pretty good relationship with Hyundai over the last five years and I would like to see that continue to be built but there are a lot of other factors in that decision as well.”
In his only event to date Paddon scored a solid fifth in Sweden. Teammate Thierry Neuville won that rally but both he and Mikkelsen have failed to fire in the other two rounds so far.
That could be considered a good thing for Paddon.
“I am not watching them at all,” Paddon said. “I can’t watch rallies if I am not doing them. I am quite lucky that I am here at home helping the boys in the workshop and keeping distracted from that. Of course I keep an eye on the results but the only thing that is important to me this year is what we can do. It doesn’t matter what results the other boys get.
“All we can control is what we can do.
“I am pretty confident that once we go back to Europe and start making a few little changes to the car in my direction I think we can be challenging right up the front.”
A string of good results would put the Kiwi back in a position of power.