Paddon wants second title

Hayden Paddon (right) and co-driver John Kennard hope to win the European Rally Championship...
Hayden Paddon (right) and co-driver John Kennard hope to win the European Rally Championship title again this year. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
New Zealand rallying’s dashing duo will be chasing glory on European gravel and tarmac again this season.

Cromwell-based star Hayden Paddon and long-time co-driver John Kennard will soon head overseas in a bid to defend their FIA European Rally Championship title.

Paddon knows he has a challenge ahead of him during the eight European rallies, where he will maintain his long connection with Hyundai New Zealand by again driving a Hyundai i20 N Rally 2 car.

“Returning for this second ERC season, I expect that John and I will have targets painted on our backs with other competitors striving to beat us,’’ Paddon said.

"We expect a tougher fight, but John and I will look to lift our performances this year on some of the events we will now have experience of. It will be an exciting year."

It will be the 19th year that Paddon has rallied with Kennard, of Blenheim, as his co-driver.

“It’s awesome to have John back in the car again. It’s like a fine wine getting better with age.

"We’re both excited to get back over there and put last year’s experience to good use.

"We’ll hit the ground running this year, knowing more what to expect from some of the rallies, the competition, and the teams."

Paddon is also pleased to work with northern Italian team BRC Racing again.

BRC, Hyundai Motorsport and his own Paddon Racing Group worked well together to push the development of the i20 N Rally 2 car, the driver said.

The ERC calendar has been refreshed for 2024.

Paddon gets airborne during the Czech Republic round of the 2023 season.
Paddon gets airborne during the Czech Republic round of the 2023 season.
The championship takes in three well-established asphalt events — Rally Islas Canarias, Rally di Roma Capitale and Barum Czech Rally Zlin — as well as popular gravel rallies in Sweden and Estonia.

There is also a new-look Rally Hungary on gravel to open the season later this month, and two other asphalt events on the ERC calendar for the first time, Rali Ceredigion in the United Kingdom and the season-concluding Rally Silesia in Poland.

“We contested half of the eight rallies last year so at least we have more experience than we had 12 months ago,’’ Paddon said.

"That leaves half as new-to-us rallies with more tarmac events than gravel. We’re up for that challenge because I think our performance on tarmac has come a long way in the last few years, so we back ourselves to be equally as competitive on tarmac as we are on gravel."

An interesting aspect of ERC is the battle between tyre manufacturers, and Paddon’s Hyundai will be fitted with Pirelli tyres.

“I’m proud that Pirelli have played a big part in my career since 2010. We saw last year that Pirelli was the best all-round tyre for the whole championship and feel they will give us the best chance for success again this year."

Paddon said he and Kennard revelled in the close competition and atmosphere of the passionately supported European rally circuit.

“The European championship is pretty much what rallying is all about to me — a lot of very cool rallies and, to be blunt, a lot less politics.

"Of course, we’re keeping an eye on the WRC and what’s happening there in case there’s ever a chance for us to take our own New Zealand team into that environment.

"In the meantime, the ERC is the best fit for us, where I am in my career and also for our PRG team in New Zealand."

Paddon and his team will also contest the 2024 New Zealand Rally Championship.

They will compete in five of the six events. Sadly, for local fans, he will miss the season-opening Otago Rally as it is the same weekend as the Hungary round of the ERC.

— Staff reporter