Hayden Paddon is one of the best-known and most successful rally drivers from New Zealand and considering his age, best is still to come for this Kiwi. In 2016, he became the first ever rally driver from New Zealand to win a rally in the World Rally Championship by triumphing at Rally Argentina. He did it in a Hyundai i20 WRC.
Paddon is a member of Hyundai's factory team since 2014. Earlier in a career, his greatest success was a victory in the Production WRC competition in 2011, at the wheel of a Subaru Impreza WRX STi.
Paddon was born on 20th of April, 1987 in Geraldine, a village on Southern Island, about 140 km south of Christchurch. Hayden’s father also was a rally driver so it’s not surprising that he followed in his father’s footsteps. His first racing experience was in karting and at the age of 15, Paddon debuted in some smaller rally events.
He had to wait until 2006 for the first appearance in the New Zealand Rally Championship. Driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, Paddon won both Junior and Rookie titles, announcing that he is ready for bigger tasks. His navigator was John Kennard, who is still competing with Paddon.
The following year, the New Zealander debuted in the World Rally Championship. He was given a wildcard for the New Zealand rally, in which Paddon competed in the Production category, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII.
In November 2007, he traveled to Europe to participate in the Wales Rally GB. He was driving a Lancer Evo IX for Team Jordan, retiring from the event during the last day.
After finishing as a New Zealand Rally Championship runner-up in 2007, Hayden Paddon won the national title the next year, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX. Again, Paddon competed in his home round of WRC finishing fourth in Production category and 13th overall.
In 2009, Paddon defended NZ Rally Championship title and again took part in only one WRC event, in Australia, but impressed and surprised many finishing ahead of most regular Production category drivers. For his success, he was awarded Pirelli Star Driver scholarship which allowed him to compete in six WRC events in the following season. After winning the International Rising Stars scholarship too, Paddon earned more funds, and that almost had him settled down for the full 2010 season.
In 2010, the New Zealander entered eight World Rally Championship events as Pirelli Star Driver in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX. He had won the PWRC category at his home race and finished second and third in Finland and Germany, while his best overall finish was in Japan where he was 12th.
With a newly formed New Zealand World Rally Team, Paddon competed in all six of PWRC rounds in 2011. Surprisingly, Hayden decided to switch from Mitsubishi to Subaru Impreza WRX STi and that proved to be a smart move. Paddon won the Production World Rally Championship title, being the fastest in the four consecutive PWRC rounds – Portugal, Argentina, Finland and Australia. For the first time in his career, he managed to break through into the WRC Top 10 overall at the races in Argentina and Australia.
For the 2012 campaign, Paddon moved to the SWRC category, driving a Škoda Fabia S2000. The results were pretty good as he clinched the class wins in Portugal and New Zealand. He finished fourth in the final SWRC standings.
In the following year, the SWRC was converted into WRC-2 championship and Paddon took part in three events, again behind the wheel of Škoda Fabia S2000. His best result was 8th place overall and third in class at ADAC Rallye Deutschland.
In 2013, Paddon also competed in the New Zealand Rally Championship in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, winning three rallies and taking his third national rally championship title.
At the end of the season, he made a debut in a World Rally Car, driving Qatar M-Sport WRT's Ford Fiesta RS WRC at Rally Catalunya. He finished eighth overall.
The progress continued in 2014 when Paddon became a member of the Hyundai Motorsport N team. For the first time in his career, he had won a stage in WRC, during the Rally Catalunya in Spain. Hayden scored points in five rallies that year, and he finished 14th in the WRC Drivers’ championship.
2015 proved to be even more successful for Hayden Paddon; driving a Hyundai i20, he was 9th at the end of the season with 84 points on his account. In 2015 Rally d’Italia Sardegna, Hayden became the first driver from New Zealand to lead the WRC event, since Possum Bourne who was leading the New Zealand rally in 1999.
In 2016, he stayed with Hyundai and scored his maiden WRC victory at Rally Argentina in April. During the season, he added podiums in Sweden (2nd) and Poland (3rd) to finish fourth in the overall WRC classification. It was his best season so far.
In 2017, a new generation of World Rally Cars came but Paddon's debut in the #4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC was tragic. He had an accident at Rallye Monte-Carlo in which one spectator lost a life. Later in the season, he reached podiums in Poland and Australia to finish 8th in the points.
From the start of his WRC career, Paddon's navigator was his experienced compatriot John Kennard (born in 1959), who has architecture background and runs his own wine business. After five WRC events in 2017, Kennard decided to retire from international rallying and Sebastian Marshall took over co-driver's seat in Paddon's car. Kennard is still serves as Paddon's navigator in national events in which Paddon occasionally participates.
In 2018, Paddon stayed with Hyundai but on a part-time schedule. He would share the third car with Dani Sordo. The first two drivers are Thierry Neuville and Andreas Mikkelsen.