When renowned rally driver Hayden Padden produced a clear win at the second round of the New Zealand Rally Championship in Whangarei last weekend, he did so with a Cambridge man by his side, co-driver Malcolm Peden.
“It was a very cool experience, second to none,” Peden said on Monday last week, after the team finished 7 minutes and 26.3 seconds ahead of their nearest rival, Auckland’s Ben Hunt and Tony Rawstorn.
“It’s just an unbelievable result, to be able to be that much faster,” said Peden. “On one of the stages we were so much faster Hayden asked, ‘are you sure the time’s right?’.
“It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to go from national New Zealand level to and co-driving with the level of a world rally championship driver… It’s mind-blowing how much faster it is.”
Peden has spent most of the last ten years co-driving in the national championship, spending the last two years managing the team that won last year’s round, Force Motorsport with Auckland driver Andrew Hawkeswood.
Peden “jumped at the opportunity” when the 2011 world champion selected him for the role, having received hundreds of applications from around the world. The pair have known each other for a number of years, and Paddon wanted to give the opportunity to a New Zealand-based co-driver after his usual man John Kennard recently had hip surgery, and his world championship co-driver Seb Marshall also wasn’t available.
“I have done a couple of rallies overseas before, but never at the level that he competes at,” Peden said. “He just goes so much faster through the corners… the level of detail in his notes is just way above anything else in NZ, and a lot of the drivers in the world championships. So it’s a big step up really, and the speed, it’s just very, very fast.”
Peden had the all-important role of being Paddon’s extra set of eyes and ears over more than ten hours of racing, preparing him with precise details of each coming corner and curve of the race – quite a challenge while travelling at 190kmph, driving over gravel and sometimes slippery surfaces.
“It’s trying to read as fast as you can to get it to him, so that we don’t go off the road basically,” Peden said.
The 29 cars raced through a few showers over the weekend, but the worst of the weather saw heavy fog set in on Saturday morning, claiming one driving team that had to drop out after crashing into a ditch.
During that first stage was the winning pair’s closest call, when they thought a corner was further away than it actually was. “Hayden thought he saw the corner further up, and it wasn’t until we were actually in the corner that he realised we were in it, so that was a bit of a moment for us! But he’s got the skill to gather it up and get it around the corner.”
The wet-ish weather meant Paddon didn’t have the grip he’d hoped for to beat his own stage records at the event, but the seven-minute lead was enough for Peden.
During the final round on Sunday, Paddon’s Hyundai i20 managed to lift all four wheels off the ground, jumping at about 185kmph as a corner neared them just 150 metres away.
“He sets the car up so that he actually unbalances it, or throws the car sideways before the corner, to drive around it. So it’s a very aggressive style, but it clearly works for him,” said Peden. “I wasn’t worried at any stage during the rally, because that’s what he does for a job.”
Peden will now return to co-driving with the Campbell motorsport team, set to compete in round 3 of the national rally championship in early June.