Hayden Paddon's dream of a WRC return at Rally Finland have been shattered after a high-speed accident in testing on Monday.
The New Zealander was to contest his first WRC event since finishing second at Rally Australia last November, driving an M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC.
His pre-event test has been going well, until the car hit a rock in the middle of the road on a blind, sixth-gear corner.
The impact sent the car off the road and Paddon and co-driver, John Kennard, were passengers thereafter.
The damage was substantial, and M-Sport had no option other than to withdraw the car from this weekend's rally.
A shattered Paddon told wrc.com that he was gutted.
"I came to Finland in such a good place, mentally and physically I’ve never been so well prepared for a rally like this.
"Everything was right and everything was ready. There was no lack of effort anywhere or from anyone, we put everything into this. Everything.
"I’d say I’m gutted, but that doesn’t come close.
"After all the effort so many people have put into this, I just don’t know what to say. It’s sport. Sport can be like this, you know. You can’t have the roses every day.
"For the absolute highs to matter and mean so much, you have to have absolute lows and this is one of them.
Photo: @TuomasToyry via Twitter
Paddon explained that on a pre-event test, you need to drive the car hard to get the best out of ti.
"You can’t just drive around. Having said that, after the accident I thought about things and asked myself ‘so, what would I have done differently?’
"And the answer is actually nothing. That’s one of the things that’s actually so hard to accept.
"The corner’s pretty much flat out, but the approach to it is blind because of a small crest. We came over that crest committed to the corner, and on the same line we’d been on plenty of times before, and the rock was just sitting there.
"If you move even half a metre off line at that speed, it’s the end, you’re gone. We hit the rock right in the middle of the car and it just threw us off line and straight into the trees.
"At that speed, on a narrow piece of road like that, there’s nothing you can do."
The damage to the sump guard was a clear indication of the speed he had hit the rock at.
"It was the biggest crash I’ve had, certainly the one with the highest speed. When we got out of the car, the sump guard is actually split in half. The rock we hit is still there with a load of aluminium on it."
M-Sport's team principal, Richard Millener, says it was a freak accident that was not Paddon's fault.
"When you test on a road like that, these things can happen," Millener told Motorsport.com.
"We saw pretty much the same thing happen with Seb [Ogier] in his Finland test last year.
"The difference in that test was that Seb was in the test car rather than his entry car. There's always a risk involved with testing in the car you'll be running on the event and this time it's come back and bitten us.
"You can't help but feel really sorry for Hayden. We don't blame him for this. A rock's been pulled out and he's then discovered it sitting in the middle of the road in a blind, sixth-gear right-hander. There was nothing he could do to avoid it.
"It's hit the bottom of the car and sent them into the air and off the road. They were passengers."
Photo: @TuomasToyry via Twitter
M-Sport's managing director, Malcolm Wilson, quickly instructed the team to find a way to get Paddon onto the start line, but it soon become obvious that wasn't possible.
"The car needs a jig and we don't have one and, even if we had a car built and ready to go, it would take three and a half days to get it out there. It's simply not possible," Millener added.
"Everything was going so well with him, he's been a pleasure to work with and we were all looking forward to the event."
Paddon's effort to get to Rally Finland had been a remarkable one, with his team of supporters back in New Zealand digging deep to help make it happen.
"John and I are both ok and thank you for everyone’s messages," he said.
"Incredibly sorry for the team and everyone back home in NZ who made this event possible. With the damage we will be unable to start the event."
Where that leaves Paddon and his future in the WRC remains to be seen, but you can rest assured that his Kiwi determination means it won't be the last we see of him at the top level.
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