The Bucket list/Bucket seat

I feel that the term ‘bucket list’ is overused and overrated. Sure you should have some goals and ideals, things that make you smile and things you should aspire to do; but listing them? On the whole people say they have a bucket list and don’t in fact have one – I say this mainly because I am one of those people.

However if I did have one, the call from Hyundai a few months ago (saying that there was a potential for me to ride shotgun with Haydon Paddon on an NZ Rally stage) would have sure put it somewhere right near the top. Last week, it all became a reality.

The venue – the 4-5k Rally stage at Maramarua Forest. Set in 1600 hectares of rugged and impressive landscape, it’s an undulating gravel course full of tight corners, blind bends, steep climbs and even steeper drops (it even has its own natural pool). Arriving early (yes I was very excited) I had the pleasure of helping to mark out the course with Dale Perry the Rally Drive NZ manager, he also took me for a quick tour of the area, the property is magnificent particularly under the early morning sun and at the top with its expansive views.

The Car – a local version of the Hyundai i20 WRC car. I’d say it was scaled back or not as powerful as the ‘real’ thing (which has a Hyundai Motorsport turbocharged engine with direct injection, 1,600cc, 200 kW at 6,000 RPM, 400Nm at 5,000 RPM)  but it certainly didn’t feel that way at all.

The Driver – Hayden Paddon, a twenty-nine year old Kiwi from the heart of the South Island. Our most successful WRC driver with a multitude of stage wins, podium places plus he managed to take out the Argentinian Rally. Away from the car, he’s attentive and all smiles, around the Hyundai he’s knowledgeable and informative (assisting the mechanics both physically and highlighting any vehicle concerns) but when he’s inside the car he is all business, he has his game face on – focused and unyielding.

The Passenger – a slightly older, (less than fit) excited puppy dog that outwardly showed smiles and bravado while inside was a bag full of nerves and trepidation. And I have to say; was looking particularly fetching with his face and frame squeezed into a race suit and helmet.

The Experience – An adrenaline rush from virtually start to finish. Pre run – We gathered around an incredibly composed and relaxed Hayden Paddon (he may have been exhausted having just arrived off an international fight and was due to be back on one within the next few days) as he introduced himself and what we would expect. Essentially, the first couple of runs would be ‘more exciting’ as he needed to sweep the course and get to know it without the aid of notes from co-driver Kennard – rest assured I wasn’t going to be first in line – it would be a sprint to the top, turn around and return with undoubtedly plenty of time to check out the scenery. With barely any questions from the rather subdued crowd, it was straight down to business.

Having negotiated the roll cage (a feat in itself), we were 6 point harnessed; tightly into the bucket seat, before a quick re-introduction, handshake and then off, and boy were we off! From the moment Hayden pushes down on the accelerator, the speed, workrate, car control, g-force and adrenaline buzz, is relentless. It’s a strange and almost surreal experience as you rush towards blind corners (knowing that you are on a loose and uneven road surface) while Hayden works the wheel, gears and (not often enough if I was driving) brakes. But, bizarrely, you seem to know that he has everything under control. I tried watch the road and maybe even think about the corners like him but quickly realised this was was futile – he has a near sixth sense about the terrain. At times there was a sense of weightlessness as the i20 shifted direction in gravity defying fashion, on any other day it would be terrifying but it all added to the fun.

We returned to the start in one piece and for a moment there I was thumbs up but speechless – which is no easy thing to achieve let me tell you. The whole stage was over in mere minutes but the smiles (albeit hysterical) will last for years. I can strike it off the bucket list but feel I need to add it on again to redo, once is simply not enough.

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