New Zealand's world rally champion Hayden Paddon admits that he is excited to be starting a new chapter in his career as he prepares to depart for Spain next week.
The down-to-earth 24-year old will base himself in the coastal town of Montgat, not far from his new team ASM Motorsport, as he gears up to campaign a Skoda Fabia S2000 rally car in the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship.
With a new team, a new car and a new championship to try and win, Paddon can draw on the confidence that comes from partnering with his talented and experienced co-driver, John Kennard, for the seventh consecutive season. The Kiwi will also take a slice of home with him to Spain, as partner Katie takes on a larger support role with Hayden Paddon Rallysport Global Ltd, the company behinds Paddon's campaign to drive in and, one day, win the World Rally Championship title.
In the meantime, however, the driver's head isn't up in the clouds, as he remains as focused as ever on improving and developing as a driver and as a professional.
“From a results perspective, our goal for year is obviously to win SWRC,” Paddon noted in the days before he flew to Europe, “And, in terms of other professional goals, it's to keep learning and developing. Every rally we go to, I try to work on my driving as well as everything I do in and out of the car. Every rally we come away from, we analyse what we've done, take one thing and improve on that for the next one. So, with John, the team and the company, we'll keep doing all those things this year as we have for the past seven.”
Paddon continually seeks to get as much experience out of each rally as he can, to build more and stronger relationships with people competing in and managing WRC teams, and this year, he's got a new car, new competitors and a new championship to take into account.
“Essentially we're trying to build on our previous year's efforts,” says the southern hemisphere native to win the Production World Rally Championship title, “We want to bring more intensity and more speed to it all to try and show that perhaps we do have what it takes to go all the way.”
Paddon acknowledges there's some challenge driving the new category of car, the more powerful Skoda Fabia S2000-spec car but 'in saying that, when I test drive the Skoda last year, within about one or two kilometres of being in it, I just got on and drove it'.
"Once you got the helmet on, it's the same as when we went from the Mitsubishi to the Subaru, you learn what the strengths of the car are and get on and drive it," he continued, "I don't think it will be a problem at all. Actually, the biggest consideration is that our first round in Sweden is the only WRC event I haven't done before and it's on snow, so those two things are going to be more challenging than actually learning the car. It's a great car.”