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"As we sit on the start line, I know what to expect. Intense 'kick you in the back' acceleration, incredibly late 'we're going into the trees' braking, and numerous 'suck your butt cheeks in' moments as we slide sideways towards immovable objects." RallySport Magazine's Peter Whitten got the ride of this life prior to the recent Eureka Rush Rally. * * * * * How do you describe the thrill of sitting beside one of the world's best rally drivers as he pushes a car to within an inch of its life on a twisting, tree-lined gravel road? I could go on and on about the horsepower, the road holding, the almost unbelievable stopping power and the cushioning suspension that make the Hyundai i20 R5 such a great really car. And all of that is true. But it was all to be expected too. It's a world class rally car that has been built from the ground up to do just that, and if it didn't, then it would have been a let down.
No, the best way to describe what it's like to sit beside Hayden Paddon is to talk about Hayden Paddon himself.
First though, a little about me, if I may. I've been with some quick punters over the years, but it's been a while. Previously, my quickest ride was probably with Ed Ordynski in a factory-spec Group A Mitsubishi Lancer in the Atkins Forest just outside Perth prior to Rally Australia in 1997. More recently, I've taken a ride with Brendan Reeves on tarmac in his Subaru Impreza in the late 2000s, both of which were unforgettable experiences. This ride with Hayden Paddon, however, was simply next level, and even as I write this I'm struggling with how to explain it. Commitment is the first word that comes to mind. We were on a six kilometre piece of road in a typically Australian hardwood forest, with big gums trees lining the road for the entire length. This is no planned or structured road - it's just a wiggly line of gravel between the trees to join different locations. As such, it has no real flow to it. 'Technical' is the term they tend to use these days. As we're about to begin, Hayden apologies that it may not be as fast as he'd like, as he was still trying to remember the road, and without pace notes that was a little difficult. He offers me Samantha Gray's notes, but I decline, barely able to see over the dash, let alone being able to call pace notes on a road I've never seen before.
As we sit on the start line, I know what to expect. Intense 'kick you in the back' acceleration, incredibly late 'we're going into the trees' braking, and numerous 'suck your butt cheeks in' moments as we slide sideways towards immovable objects.
All of which are repeated many, many times during our three minutes and 20 seconds on the stage. As I said, that's what I expected.

My ride with WRC star Hayden Paddon was simply mind-blowing. Photo: John Doutch

What I wasn't quite ready for was Hayden's total commitment, his unwavering belief in his own ability, and in that of the car underneath him. Just 200 metres into the stage we were nearly 90 degrees to the road as he threw the i20 into the first corner, the front left passing within inches of a massive ironbark gum tree. Continuing on, he used the small banks on the sides of the road to bounce the car off and straighten it up for the next corner, all the while pulling gears and keeping the foot flat to the floor. * The video below shows this perfectly.
When he wasn't on the power, he was hard on the brakes, the i20 standing on its nose as he worked his magic and kept the car unsettled and moving at maximum velocity.
To be honest, from the passenger seat it was difficult to take in what was happening at this speed. The harness and HANS device ensured I was strapped in snugly, but the constant g-forces at that speed took some getting used to. Hayden, meanwhile, was happy to chat as we sped along, all the while trying to remember a road that was as alien to him as the i20 R5 was to me. "This is where it lacks power," he remarks as we power up a slight rise in fifth and sixth gears. "For you, perhaps," I reply meekly. It was about now that it struck me that this was just another day at work for the Kiwi. Sure, the car didn't have the power of a 2017-spec World Rally Car, but this was his office, and driving at this speed between the trees was as normal for him as typing stories on a keyboard was to me. Perhaps inevitably though, there was that one 'moment' where I thought he pushed that little bit too hard. Still pulling gears towards what Hayden thought was a '6 left', we both quickly realised it was actually a '3 left' that tightened ...... Encased in the world's best build roll cage, I knew injury was not a concern, but I did think that, at the very least, we were about to spin and be stuck in the undergrowth. That's not how WRC drivers think though. Without a second thought, he clicked it back a gear or two, buried his right foot through the floor and we powered up the next straight as though nothing had happened. The final couple of kilometres of the stage opened out slightly and were much faster over blind crests, none of which seemed to slow us down. As my ride neared its conclusion, I tried to take stock of what had just happened, and how I could put it into words.
I was never scared - not even the slightest - but as we pulled through the finish control, I was in two minds about wanting to do it again.
On one hand, I was eager to get back out there and have another run with the great man. On the other hand, I was glad it was over. Not because of the speed or the danger, but because I'm not sure how much more my body could handle. I'm not the biggest bloke, but I'm bigger than Samantha Gray, yet I'm not used to the rigours of sitting in a rally car at that speed, or under those g-forces. In a way, it gave me the perfect overview of modern-day rallying, giving me a solid understanding of how a top-level R5 rally car performs, and how important a good co-driver is to the whole package. Most of all though, it gave me a renewed appreciation of the brilliance of anyone who can pilot a WRC-spec car at anything resembling those speeds. Hayden Paddon is one of the world's fastest rally drivers, and I felt privileged to have had the opportunity to have ridden with him at speed. It's an experience I'll never forget. Now I just need a ride in a 'proper' World Rally Car to compare it with ...... * Thanks to Hayden Paddon for the ride of a lifetime, and to Graeme, Marcus and Scott Walkem for ensuring I didn't leave the test day until I'd been in the car. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtaofT6u2Qc&feature=youtu.be

Hayden wanted more power from the i20 R5 engine ......

The Hyundai's extensive roll cage is a comforting reminder of the car's safety.

Impact-absorbing door protection adds to the safety of the modern rally car.

Read Hayden Paddon's autobiography:

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