Thoughts of ANZAC Day back in New Zealand helped Hayden Paddon win his first World Rally Championship event, Rally Argentina.
So too the steely attitude All Blacks mental skills coach Gilbert Enoka has drilled into him over the past few months. Don’t buy into the mind games, Enoka had told him. Focus on the now.
The mind games intensified after Saturday’s second-day stages in Argentina and the obligatory press conference that followed.
Paddon had established a 30-second lead on reigning WRC champion Sebastien Ogier, but Ogier wanted to talk more about his favourite beef: the WRC running order.
As WRC champion, Ogier doesn’t like going out first on days one and two on gravel rallies, like Argentina. Doing so sweeps a quicker line for the other drivers behind him, he complains.
Paddon said he didn’t have a problem with the running order. The two drivers went toe-to-toe, before retreating to their service areas to blow off steam.
Said Paddon: “The accumulation of work I had done with Gilbert helped me to reset, stay in the moment and focus on the ultimate performance and not focus on the outcome.
“Maybe it was a bit of the fighting ANZAC spirit that pulled us through.”
Ogier later reportedly apologised to Paddon, adding that he still thought the Kiwi was wrong. But he was one of the first to congratulate Paddon and co-driver John Kennard on the win.
“Respect for that performance,” Ogier said. “Well done to him (Paddon) – he did a great job on the last stage.”
Paddon admitted that Rally Argentina “introduced me a lot more to mental games, both with others and myself,” he said.
“While I was on the receiving end a couple of times, it only amped me up to dig deeper. After the altercation with Seb, there was no way I wanted to be beaten.
“Having come this far in the rally to fall over at the last hurdle – it was not an option.”
The three weeks of homework Paddon and his driving analyst Ole-Martin Lundefaret had done on Sunday’s demanding, high-altitude El Condo special stage also helped to seal Paddon’s win.
In the 2015 Rally Argentina, Paddon lost 20 seconds to Ogier on El Condo. But this year he and Lundefaret studied the stage meter-by-meter.
“It meant we were prepared for what seemed like a mountain to climb,” Paddon said. It was. “Low cloud had blanketed the top half of the stage in the thickest fog I have ever driven in.
“You literally could not see past the bonnet, and as an indication of how bad it was, in the first 8km of the stage, we were one minute slower than what we were on the repeated run with no fog.
“Despite two mistakes in hairpins at the bottom of the hill, including stalling the engine, we were relieved to have only lost seven seconds.”
Paddon throttled back to look after his car on Sunday’s second stage, but was amazed to find he had lost 20 seconds. “It was a good clean stage.” He was now down to a two-second lead.
“When the green light flashed on the start line of the final stage, we drove the stage of our life,” he said.
“Historically this is the slow, technical sort of stage I would struggle with, but something clicked and it was an almost perfect stage.
“Not only did we beat Seb’s time, but by a massive 11 seconds. There was a moment when John and I looked at each and said ‘surely not’”.
Paddon is back in New Zealand to drive his Hyundai NZ in this weekend’s Rally Whangarei on the “best rally roads in the world.”
Rally Argentina result:
- Hayden Paddon (New Zealand) Hyundai 3:40:52.900
- Sebastien Ogier (France) Volkswagen +00:14.300
- Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway) Volkswagen 01:05.200
- Daniel Sordo (Spain) Hyundai 01:17.100
- Mads Ostberg (Norway) Ford 04:56.700