Tragedy struck on Hayden and John’s first event of the season – the Monte Carlo Rally. A spectator standing on the road died after their Hyundai i20WRC collided with him on the opening stage. Hitting black ice meant Hayden had no control of the car and was unable to avoid the man. Out of respect for him and his family, they withdrew from the event.

Only two weeks later, Hayden overcame both personal and competitive challenges to secure a confidence-boosting seventh place at Rally Sweden.

In March they achieved a fifth place in Rally Mexico, although it wasn’t where Hayden had been hoping to finish.

“It’s certainly been a difficult weekend. Okay, P5 is still some okay points and we can take some positives away from that, but it’s certainly not the performance level we wanted. Obviously, we want more and it feels like we’re in a bit of a trough at the moment. On the brighter side, I’m sure we’re going to come out of it soon and, when we do then we can get the results that we expect and that we know we can achieve. We’ve just got to keep working hard and not give up.

At the notoriously tricky Tour de Corse, he dropped a position to sixth. The similar surface dredging up memories from the Monte Carlo incident.

Returning to the scene of his 2016 WRC win, Hayden was hoping for a top result at Rally Argentina. A slow roll-over on the Friday cost them irretrievable time and dropped them down the pack to a sixth-place finish.

“You could not have written a script more opposite to what we had here last season. We’ve gone from a career high to a result that is much lower on the scale. I just can’t believe our luck,” Hayden said at the time.

It would be Hayden and John’s final WRC rally together as after Argentina the hard decision was made for Hayden to change co-drivers to UK co-driver Sebastian (Seb) Marshall. Seb was scheduled to take over from Hayden’s long-time co-driver John Kennard at Rally Finland in July, but John decided to step out for Portugal on medical advice due to a hip injury.

John says that: “After 12 years as Hayden’s co-driver, it will be hard to lever myself out of that Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC seat for the last time. But our deal has always been that I help Hayden in the most effective way possible and to have been his co-driver for so long, has been incredibly fulfilling and rewarding. When we first got in a car together, in 2006, the dream of winning the WRC seemed so far away, but now, as we push to achieve that ultimate goal, it’s timely that we re-arrange roles for maximum effect and to help complete the quest we’re all on –to bring the WRC Championship trophy home to New Zealand.”

Hayden paid tribute to John. “Obviously, John has played a huge part in my career since we started working together at the end of 2005. We have achieved so much together, and it has been quite a journey of highs and lows. It’s certainly sad to end the partnership, but we have been discussing over the last couple of years when was the best for both of us to make the transition with an eye towards the future. I can’t thank John enough for everything he’s contributed in these 12 years, but this is not the end. He will stay involved, helping me behind the scenes and, as he has played an important part in the journey so far, it’s only natural that he remains a part of it.

Hayden and Seb’s first outing together at Portugal saw them achieve four stage wins but technical difficulties forced them out of the event on Friday and again on Saturday.

At the next rally, they experienced the highs of leading Rally Italia Sardegna for eight of the rally’s 19 special stages, and the lows of crashing – twice – to end their hopes of a strong finish.

July’s Rally Poland once again acted as a pressure-releaser as Hayden and Seb secured a hard-fought second place – celebrating their first-ever podium after just three events together. Their Hyundai team-mates Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul took victory, creating Hyundai Motorsport’s first one-two finish since Germany 2014.

Hayden summed up the frustrations they experienced in Finland on the Sunday when yet another mechanical issue saw them retire after the power stage: “It has been one of those weekends for us. After our retirements on Friday and Saturday, we wanted to approach these final stages in a positive manner and to get some time behind the wheel. This rally has perfectly illustrated our season, where anything that can go wrong does go wrong. The power stage was another example, when the car unexpectedly went straight on at a third gear corner. Still, we got to the end of the rally and I am sure, one day in the future, we will look back and laugh at our bad luck this year. I am sure we could have fought for the podium this weekend, and that is the positive that we will take away.

Despite having suffered two punctures over the weekend which cost them time on both the Friday and Saturday

Hayden and Seb finished eighth in the 17-20 August running of the tricky, technical tarmac Rallye Deutschland.

Hyundai Motorsport made the decision to cut Hayden’s 2017 programme, which meant he was forced to miss Rally Spain and Rally GB.

He and Seb ended their 2017 WRC season on a positive note, in the right place at the right time to finish third overall at Rally Australia. It was Hayden’s best result in the Australian WRC round – his previous highest finish was fourth in 2016.

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