Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard have won the opening round of the 2023 FIA European Rally Championship (ERC) in Portugal over the weekend.
The pair battled challenging wet and muddy conditions to come home with the unexpected win in their Hyundai i20 N Rally2 car prepared by Italian team BRC and Paddon’s Hyundai New Zealand Rally team.
Just 2.8 seconds separated Paddon and rally leader Mikko Heikkilä heading into the final 14.9km Lameirinha power stage until the Finnish driver suffered a puncture.
It was a stage Paddon had success on earlier in the day when he finished second to former WRC competitor Craig Breen. That was the same order the second time around also, Breen taking the stage to finish sixth in the rally but Paddon’s second was enough for him to take the crown.
It wasn’t to be for Heikkilä who was forced to replace his front left an agonizing 5km from the finish after having led by as much as 10 seconds early on in the day.
“Sorry for Heikkilä, we wanted to try and overcome those 2.8 seconds fair and square. But we’re happy, very happy,” Paddon said following the win.
Paddon also became the first New Zealander to win a round of the ERC, claiming it was a really good weekend overall.
“Certainly much more than we expected. Given the level of competition that was here this weekend, even a top five finish would initially have been a good goal but everything gelled really well with the team and the car.
“We were a little bit on the back foot at the start with not such a great qualifying result so that compromised our road position for day one, making it more about damage limitation.
“But today (Sunday), together with some changes for the car, everything felt really good. We were driving within ourselves throughout the rally so to come away with the win – and a final stage battle – was certainly very pleasing.”
Paddon and Kennard will only contest seven of the eight ERC events this year but the win is certainly a good start to his European campaign.
We will next see the Kiwis compete over the weekend of 5 to 6 May 2023 at Rally Islas Canarias in Spain.