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Paddon leads ERC after Estonia

Kiwi rally stars Hayden Paddon and John Kennard now top the points-table of the 2024 FIA European Rally Championship (ERC) following a challenging weekend in wet conditions at Rally Estonia, which took place 5 to 7 July.

Once again, the New Zealanders knuckled down and took on the challenges – and there were several – that came their way to bank the 17 points earned for fifth place* and move into the championship lead at the midway point of the ERC season. They now have 73 points to second-placed Frenchman Mattieu Franchesci with 63 points, and four rallies to go.

Rally Estonia started with qualifying, and Paddon and Kennard were first to run just as wet weather hit the stage. “This meant we swept the water out of the ruts and limited how hard we could push.”

Faster drivers in qualifying choose their starting position for the following day and, with a slower time, Paddon didn’t have any choice about running fourth on the road for Saturday’s gravel stages. The pair pushed on, winning Friday night’s super special stage in host city Tartu, but more challenges awaited.

“On Saturday morning’s first stage which was full of jumps, we took a bit of nosedive and damaged the radiator. To be honest, we were lucky to get through the stage at all as it’s possible to cook a motor and not finish in those circumstances. To get through in 17th place wasn’t so bad.

“We were able to patch up the car between stages, and recovered to win two of the remaining eight stages and okay results in the others, despite two punctures, to end the day in seventh place. Most importantly, this was ahead of our main championship rivals.”

Sunday’s route had just four special stages. Paddon and Kennard had a better road position and were able to set consistent top three stage times. In the final, points-earning power stage, a brief ‘moment’ near the start saw the pair back off slightly to ensure they finished the stage and the rally with a well-earned fifth place.

“Definitely a weekend of positives and negatives but in general we can be happy it’s going in the right direction for our championship defence.”

Paddon and Kennard now have three ERC rallies on tarmac – Rome at the end of July, Czech in mid-August then Wales at the end of August – before Paddon will contest another New Zealand Rally Championship event with Jared Hudson in Manawatu.

Paddon Racing Group appreciates the support of Hyundai New Zealand, Mitre 10 Trade, Z Energy, Valvoline, Makita, Bars Bugs, Pirelli, OMP/Racer Products, Winmax Brake Pads, South Canterbury Road Safety, TrailLite, Repco NZ, Stedi, Highlands Motorsport Park, MITO, Machinery House, Design Windows, Bartercard, Mike Greer Homes, Provident Insurance, King Gee Clothing and Signbiz.

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