Sun 27 Aug 2023

ERC @ 70: Paddon’s perfect year revisited part one

Hayden Paddon is the winner of the FIA European Rally Championship for 2023*, taking the coveted title during the ERC’s 70th-anniversary season following a standout campaign alongside co-driver and fellow New Zealander John Kennard.

Competing in a Pirelli-equipped Hyundai i20 N Rally2 for BRC Racing Team, Paddon scored one win and five podiums to put the title beyond reach ahead of the Rally Hungary finale in October.

In part one of his 2023 season review, Paddon discusses enjoying, believing, winning, scoring podiums and how not finishing in Zlín won’t “gloss over” a near-perfect performance from the 36-year-old.

Paddon on the ERC…
“It’s the most enjoyable championship I’ve ever done. Obviously, it has the same promoter behind it [as the WRC] and for where I am in my career, in terms of value for money, it’s probably the best championship in the world. You’ve got all the promotion, all the live stages, the Rally2 cars are the showpiece of the rallies so that’s what the fans go to see and that’s what’s at the forefront of the rallies, so you are trying to compete for overall results. I love the variety of the different rallies but also the fact you’ve got your fast championship regulars and you throw into the mix on every rally the fast locals who come in. The competition is constantly changing and it’s making it interesting for fans, for us as drivers, and I love the fact that locals try to shine on their local rallies. It gives us something else to strive for. The whole concept works really, really well and I’ve just really enjoyed the season.”

On thinking the championship could be possible?
“The first two rallies in Portugal and Canary Islands were about setting up the base. But then we knew the three fast gravel rallies, Poland, Latvia and Sweden, people like Mads [Østberg], Mārtiṇš [Sesks], a few others, were going to be seriously fast. That mid-part of the season was a real consolidation time for us because we didn’t want to drop too many points, we knew they were going to be super-fast and we thought we might have something up our sleeve in the closing part of the season if we required it.”

On winning the 70th-anniversary ERC title?
“It’s huge, particularly with how strong the championship has been this year. I still remember when the entry list for Fafe came out thinking we’ve got our work cut out here. Based on that, the season has probably gone better than we expected, even on the Tarmac rallies. Even though we’ve got only one win to our name, I’m quite happy with how competitive we were across the board on a range of different rallies.”

On one win but five podiums…
“We’ve got a lot less experience on Tarmac compared to other competitors so [finishing second] in Canary Islands was actually a bit of a confidence booster because we probably didn’t expect we could get on the podium there. To be as competitive there probably gave us more self-confidence to go, ‘we probably can be competitive on each and every rally’.”

On not finishing in Zlín?
“Obviously it would have been nice to have finished the rally. That was the plan and that’s what we were trying to achieve but, at the end the day, I’m not going to let one bad result gloss over what was a good season. Right from the outset of the rally we prepared a safe mode, we tried to set up the car in the safest way, we ran two spare tyres for the whole rally, the pacenotes we wrote were on the safe side, but we were stuck in this no man’s land for the entire rally and, ultimately, we were fighting for fourth, fifth or sixth. If we’d got to the end of the rally and had only finished fourth, fifth or sixth that doesn’t really float my boat to be honest and I don’t feel like we missed out necessarily on a good result. Definitely it was the most challenging rally of the year and we probably got off lightly as it being dry probably made it easier than it has been in the past. If you do go back the task is a lot easier having some experience, even if you go back and it’s wet you know what to expect.”

Visit soon for part two of Paddon’s perfect year in review.

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM