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Paddon extends lead in European Rally Championship

A close-fought third place in his first attempt at the all-tarmac Rally di Roma Capitale over the weekend has enabled Kiwi rally star Hayden Paddon to extend his lead in 2023 FIA European Rally Championship (ERC).

Paddon now has a 55 point lead over second-placed Latvian Martin Sesks with two rounds of the championship to go and competitors yet to drop their worst round for the calculation of final championship points.

Driving with long-time co-driver John Kennard, from Blenheim, Cromwell-based Paddon went into the sixth ERC round knowing he was up against several very fast local drivers who had a lot more experience on the special stages around Rome and nearby Fiuggi than he did.

The rally started on Friday with a short, 1.3 km blast around the Colosseum before six stages on Saturday. Paddon and Kennard jumped from ninth overall after Friday’s super special stage to sixth and then fourth overall by Saturday lunchtime. Then a small mistake on the day’s longest, 32.3km stage nearly stopped the Kiwis’ strong run. Thankfully they were able to repair the rear suspension sufficiently to make it back to service where BRC Racing quickly repaired the Hyundai i20 Rally 2 car for the day’s final test. They wrapped up the day sixth overall, 56.7 seconds off the leader, Italian driver Andrea Crugnola and with their closest championship rival Martin Sesks out of the rally with a mechanical issue.

Sunday’s six stages included two new tests which gave Paddon and Kennard some advantage due to their trademark thoroughness with their pace notes. A stage win on SS9 took them back into fourth overall. Another stage win on SS12 took them into third overall and they finished in third, 53.8 seconds off Crugnola.

“Overall, it’s been a very good weekend with the final result more than we expected against the level of competition here,” says Paddon. “The team, John, everyone did a great job as part of securing this result.

“There are so many fast drivers here and, in comparison, we were lacking experience on these stages. So we were happy to see how competitive we were on day one, amongst the top five. On Saturday afternoon, we made a small mistake and went wide which broke the rear suspension. We were lucky to survive that moment as it looked like the damage could have been worse than what it was. Fortunately, we were able to repair it and get back to service, but obviously we dropped a couple of positions.

“The target on Sunday) was to get back to P4. With problems for others, we got back into fourth overall. Being able to push today on a couple of new-to-all stages and get two stage wins helped us get into third overall.

“Third is absolutely perfect for the championship. We’ve got a pretty good lead now, but the job’s not done. We need to go the next rally with the same preparation and focus to try and wrap up the championship in Baram.”

Round seven of the ERC is Barum Czech Rally Zlin which takes place on 19 and 20 August.

Paddon and Kennard now each have 163 points in their respective ERC driver/co-driver championships. Second place is held by Latvian Martin Sesks with 108 points, and Mads Ostberg holds third with 80 points.

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 https://www.facebook.com/paddonrallysport.

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