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Latvia next for Paddon and Kennard after Barbados Rally win

New Zealand rally stars Hayden Paddon and John Kennard are fresh from another rally win, this time in Barbados, just before they head back to Europe for the Latvian round of the 2023 FIA European Rally Championship (ERC) this coming weekend (16 to 18 June).

With a winning margin of just 0.8 seconds, close-fought is the only way to describe Paddon and Kennard’s win at Rally Barbados, the island’s biggest international motorsport event which ran 9 to 11 June.

Driving a Hyundai i20 R5 and leading the rally after Saturday’s nine special stages, Paddon said Sunday’s drive was an epic battle with the closest competitor in a WRC car. “We made our job difficult, spinning backwards down the road in fifth gear on Sunday’s first stage. After that, on these fast stages, it was hard to make inroads, so we had to push on the final three stages to try and overcome a three second gap to the leader. Albatec Racing did an amazing job keeping us in the rally, fixing the rear of the car at the final 15-minute-long remote service after we took a wheel off on the final corner of the penultimate stage.”

Turning their attention to the ERC where the pair currently have 85 points to lead their respective driver/co-driver championship points-tables by 37 points over their closest competitors, Paddon is looking forward to competing in Latvia.

He describes the special stages around Latvian host city, Liepāja, as nice, fast and flowing stages. “We did this event last year for the first time, but as it was essentially an extended test with the Hyundai i20 Rally2 car when we’d just taken delivery, we were unable to do recce and therefore have no pace notes until John and I do recce this week. Road sweeping is always a factor on the gravel events, so it’s important to qualify well on Friday which allows us to choose our road position on Saturday.”

Paddon’s goal remains consistent – to finish strongly, ideally on the podium. “That’s what helps our bid to win the ERC title the most. If we’re in a position to fight for the win, we will, but it’s not a win-at-all-costs approach.”

The rally takes crews across a vast swathe of western Latvia with Saturday’s first two stages contested near Tukums, an hour’s drive west of the capital Riga, before they continue west towards the coastal city of Liepāja. Sunday’s four stages are south of Liepāja. There’s a total competitive distance of 183km with more than 520km on touring between stages.

Since the last ERC event in Poland, BRC Racing has prepared the Hyundai i20 Rally2 ready for the Latvian roads.

“We continue to go in a good direction with the car,” says Paddon. “There are a few areas of setup we are looking to improve on the car, especially for the second pass, so we have a test session before the rally to work on this and continue developing the car.”

This year’s Tet Rally Liepāja is the 11th running of the gravel event, which is set to be elevated to the FIA World Rally Championship in 2024 as Tet Rally Latvia. Paddon is top seed among 20 drivers entered in Rally2, including Mads Ostberg, defending ERC champion Efrén Llarena and his team-mate Latvian hero Mārtiṇš Sesks who won the last ERC round in Poland.

Tet Rally Liepāja director Raimonds Strokšs said: “Paddon, Østberg, Llarena. Alongside our national event, there are 27 countries represented. The FIA European Rally Championship once again is going from strength-to-strength with an extremely strong entry list, bringing maximum spectacle to our fast, flowing, but challenging gravel roads.”

The event organisers have not allocated numbers 42 and 43 in tribute to Craig Breen and Ken Block, who both passed away earlier this year. Breen won Rally Liepāja in 2015 while Block twice competed in the FIA World RX event in Riga.

Paddon and Hyundai New Zealand Rally appreciate the support of Hyundai New Zealand, Mitre 10 Trade, Z Energy, Makita, Open Country, Bars Bugs, Pirelli, OMP/Racer Products, Winmax Brake Pads, South Canterbury Road Safety, Ben Nevis Station, Bailey Caravans, Repco NZ, Highlands Motorsport Park, MITO, ETCO, Jacanna Freight, Pak N’ Save, Machinery House, Bartercard, Mike Greer Homes, Provident Insurance, Zealandia Systems, Carters Tyres and Signbiz.

Keep up with news on Hayden Paddon and the Hyundai New Zealand Rally team via the Facebook page here

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