Fri 05 Apr 2024

ERC Take Five with John Kennard

Aged 65 and with 169 rallies behind him, John Kennard won’t be lacking experience when the 2024 FIA European Rally Championship fires up in Hungary next week.

And the New Zealander won’t be lacking in pedigree either having guided Hayden Paddon to ERC title glory last season in their Pirelli-equipped Hyundai i20 N Rally2 expertly run by BRC Racing Team from Italy.   

Prior to heading to the ERC season opener and with the farming season done and dusted back home  – Kennard is a wine producer when he’s not competing – this is what the popular co-driver has had to say about his and Paddon’s prospects for 2024.

How much additional pressure and expectation does defending your title bring?
“Probably none because we’re kind of going back with the attitude that, perchance, we won the first rally, then we managed the championship from there on through. This year, because we’ve now done some of the rallies we hadn’t done before, it’s quite nice to go back with the attitude of it’s good to be part of the championship but if we can go back and win some of those rallies rather than settling for second then that would suit us. It’s a different mindset and that’s good fun again because we know the championship was fun last year and that helps a hell of a lot.”  

The bulk of the rallies were new to you and Hayden last year so what’s your secret for adapting so quickly?
“I guess it’s just experience. Both of us now have got a fair bit of it and we’ve been together for 19 years. So you kind of know one another and it takes those pressures away. Any pressures you’re under don’t seem to have the same intensity because you know one another, he knows what to remind me about and likewise for him. He’s off to Italy to do some shakedown on the car and it doesn’t worry me that I won’t get in the car until I get to the rally. That’s just experience, old age I suppose.”

It's quite a commitment travelling from New Zealand to compete in the ERC. Does it put you under any strain?
“I guess it’s a little more tiring than it used to be but I’ve always not minded the travel, I quite enjoy it. It’s pretty full on here, we’ve just finishing harvesting the vineyards so in a way you get a bit of a break because you can leave home, jump on a plane and sleep for 24 hours and get off the other end not feeling too bad. The first couple of events I go backwards and forwards then after Sweden I’ll stay in Europe until after Ceredigion.”  

Hayden’s perhaps better known as a gravel specialist. Does the increase in the number of Tarmac event limit your ambition at all?
“It might change Hayden’s attitude slightly but as much as Hayden considers he’s not a good Tarmac driver I’m of a mindset that he is and he kind of underrates himself. You look at Italy last year. There were people who had done the stages 15 times before. Okay we weren’t beating them and didn’t need to but it was by mere seconds [we lost]. And every time we went to a stage no one had done before I think we won them all. It’s that believing in yourself. Hayden’s workshop is beside a racetrack, he’s out on the racetrack learning that stuff all the time and I think he’s now developed into a really good Tarmac driver as well. There’s no minus points that I can see.”

How do you rate his ability on gravel in that case?
“You can see from the time we spent in the WRC, there’s different personalities there but he was equal to all of them. It was just kind of circumstances in the end that he’s not there but if you look at the rallies we’ve led, fast gravel rallies, snow, second to Sébastien Ogier in Sweden... Alright, as much as anything it’s road position, first time we led in Italy was about road position but it always is. Australia, New Zealand anywhere like that you’d back him every time. But Hayden works really, really, really hard on his pacenotes and the system. He just sent me an email about four new things in our our pacenotes for this season. After 19 years of thinking nothing would change he’s looked at all the videos from last year and picked out things that were missing and corrected them.”  

V-Híd Rally Hungary, based in the city of Veszprém, south of the capital Budapest, opens the 2024 ERC season from 12 - 14 April.

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