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News that Andreas Mikkelsen has been given a drive in the factory Hyundai team for the remainder of the 2017 WRC is bad news for New Zealander Hayden Paddon. In a season that started badly and hasn’t got much better for the talented Kiwi, his chances of challenging for the 2018 title now appear slim, if not non-existent. It has been reported that Mikkelsen has also signed for the 2018 season, driving an i20 WRC alongside Thierry Neuville, leaving Paddon to share a third car with Spaniard Dani Sordo. The change for the remaining three rounds in 2017 have been brought about by M-Sport’s big lead in the manufacturers’ championship, and the Korean squad’s desire to bridge the gap.

Hayden Paddon and then co-driver, John Kennard, took victory in Argentina last year.

It means Paddon will miss Spain, but will likely return for the gravel events in Wales and Australia. But will strong performances in the final two events this year make any difference to Paddon’s chances of a full time drive in 2018? His season started with an accident on the very first stage of the Monte Carlo Rally. He finished seventh, fifth, sixth and sixth in the next four rounds, but two retirements followed in Portugal and Italy, before a second place in Poland appeared to have got his season back on track. Finland had other ideas though, and tearing a wheel off on the first day put paid to any chances of a good result. Interestingly, Paddon has scored 24 more WRC points this season and has had less retirements that Citroen’s Kris Meeke - which probably counts for nothing in the overall scheme of things.

2017 has been a difficult year for Hayden Paddon and his Hyundai i20 WRC.

Perhaps more pressing, however, are the drivers coming behind the Kiwi, who look near certainties to get full-time drives in the future. Esapekka Lappi is a shoe-in at Toyota, Teemu Suninen has shown enough speed to win a possible contract with M-Sport in a Fiesta, and there are drivers such as Pontus Tidemand, Ole Christian Veiby and even young-gun Kalle Rovanpera who are well and truly on the radar of the factory teams. It all makes for difficult reading for the likeable Paddon, who’ll now be more intent than ever on taking podium finishes in GB and Australia - something that is harder than ever, given the competitiveness of this year’s WRC. Keep fighting Hayden. We know you’ve got it in you.
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