Kiwi rally driver Hayden Paddon has come a long way from the 12-year-old boy nervously walking down the main street of Geraldine pitching a small-fry sponsorship proposal to fund his go-kart exploits with the line “I’m going to be world rally champion”.
Now, at 26 years old, he is no longer searching for hundreds of dollars – it’s more like millions.
Paddon still believes driving is the easiest part of his job.
Wearing a helmet is the ultimate in tunnel vision – it shuts out all the other duties which come with being the face and name of a global rally group pursuing top spot in the World Rally Championship (WRC).
This coming weekend, Paddon and co-driver John Kennard have a chance to break through the glass ceiling they have hovered just below for the past two years.
Paddon has his first fully-fledged drive in a WRC car for the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team at Rally Spain beginning Thursday (NZ time).
He said it was a culmination of the hard work which started with part-time jobs as a schoolboy.
“I had the paper run which I used to do and in the school holidays I used to work with my Dad, and at nights I’d work at a fish and chip shop.
“As a 10, 11 and 12-year-old going round to business owners with a proposal and asking for money was pretty daunting but that was what was needed to get some work done on the go-kart or fill it with petrol for the next race.
“Even now it’s not the easiest thing to do [find funding]. In fact, driving the cars can be the easiest part of the job.”
Paddon started his racing days at the age of six, driving a home-built go-kart. By 1999, the 12-year-old, backed by his home town, made the step up to Formula Karts and won the Canterbury Championship.
At the same time, Paddon’s father Chris was winning the Mainland Series 1600 and 2WD Rally Series, while Hayden helped service the car in the garage.
Paddon would then follow in his father’s footsteps, dominating the Mainland Rally series in the early 2000s and becoming the youngest winner of a rally.
Back-to-back New Zealand Rally Championships in 2008 and 2009 had Paddon turning heads.
A breakthrough performance at Rally Australia in 2009 netted him the Pirelli Star Driver scholarship which gave him six rounds fully funded in 2010 in the production class of the WRC. He finished third in his debut season.
The next year he returned with a self-funded team and won the PWRC in convincing fashion.
A lack of funds had looked to derail his entire 2013 campaign, but Paddon and the team made the most of their limited opportunities and now sit on the verge of cracking the big time.
He said he always expected challenges along the way. “There are always points where you get down in the dumps and you get a lot of rejections when it comes to trying to find money.
“The pure amount of the budget needed to do this has been mind-boggling but it’s been quite humbling the amount of support we’ve had.”
Paddon said this weekend was not a make-or-break event but could prove a pivotal moment in the direction his career takes.
“I have to do what I do best, which is drive a rally car.”