Paddon and Kennard excited for ERC title defence

New Zealand’s most successful rally competitors, Hayden Paddon and John Kennard, have confirmed they will contest the 2024 FIA European Rally Championship (ERC) in a bid to defend their ERC title which they won on their first attempt last year.

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

“We’ve been working to confirm our return to the European Rally Championship over the New Zealand summer and I’m very pleased, that with the support of BRC Racing, Hyundai Motorsport, Hyundai New Zealand and Pirelli, we are now heading back to Europe to try and defend our title,” says Paddon who’s based in Cromwell, in New Zealand’s South Island.

“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. 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.”

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

“It’s awesome to have John back in the car again. Being our 19th year working together, 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 very pleased to work with northern Italian team BRC Racing again.

“Everyone at BRC was incredible to work with last year while John and I were competing in the various ERC events across Europe for the first time. The combined efforts of BRC, Hyundai Motorsport and our own Paddon Racing Group (PRG) team here in New Zealand enabled us to progress development of the Hyundai i20 N Rally 2 car. We could also draw on the development of the PRG Rally 2 car in New Zealand as we worked on new ideas to try and get more speed from the car.”

Speaking about Paddon’s ERC campaign, Gabriele Rizzo, BRC Racing Team Principal, says: “It’s never easy to put programme together at this level and it was quite a challenge indeed along the winter. We must thank the effort made by Hayden and all his partners and sponsors, in particular Hyundai New Zealand. We’ll work hard to achieve the ambitious target to win a second title in a row and this will be surely helped by having great technical partners like Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing and Pirelli. We expect a fierce and refreshed list of competitors, definitely will not be easy. We’ll need to perform at our best with solid results with the same motivation with which we started last season.”

Following on from its 70th-anniversary season in 2023, the ERC calendar has been refreshed for 2024. The championship takes in three well-established asphalt events, namely Rally Islas Canarias, Rally di Roma Capitale and Barum Czech Rally Zlín, as well as two popular gravel rallies in Sweden and Estonia. There’s also a new-look Rally Hungary on gravel to open the season in April, and two other asphalt events on the ERC calendar for the first time, namely Rali Ceredigion in the United Kingdom and the season-concluding Rally Silesia in Poland.

Hayden Paddon & John Kennard ERC Czechia

Paddon says he’s ready for the challenge of more asphalt rallies as well as four new ERC events.

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

A unique 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.”

There’s a huge amount about the ERC that both Paddon and Kennard enjoy such as the close competition, passionate fans, and great atmosphere.

“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 – there’s a lot about it that appeals to me. 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.”

Alongside the eight ERC events, Paddon and his PRG team will contest the 2024 New Zealand Rally Championship.

“It’s going to be a full-on year, running in five of the six NZRC events as well. Unfortunately we’ll miss the opening NZRC round at Rally Otago due that being the same weekend as Rally Hungary, but we’ll be here for the rest to try and defend our NZRC title as well, but that goal will be a bit harder given we’re missing Otago. Meanwhile, we’ve also got the ongoing development of the EV rally car and a few other projects up our sleeves that we’re looking forward to. All in all, a very busy year ahead.”

Paddon’s 2024 ERC event calendar
12-14 April – Rally Hungary (gravel)
2-4 May – Rally Islas Canarias (asphalt)
13-15 June – Royal Rally of Scandinavia, Sweden (gravel)
5-7 July – Rally Estonia (gravel)
26-28 July – Rally di Roma Capitale, Italy (asphalt)
16-18 August – Barum Czech Rally Zlín (asphalt)
30 August – 1 September – Rali Ceredigion, United Kingdom (asphalt)
11-13 October – Rally Silesia, Poland (asphalt)

Paddon’s 2024 NZRC event calendar (all gravel)
11 May – Rally South Canterbury
22 June – Southern Lights Rally, Invercargill
14 September – Daybreaker Rally, Manawatu
5 October – Rally Bay of Plenty
8-10 November – International Rally of Whangarei

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