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Hayden Paddon to contest European Championship

Hayden Paddon in action

Kiwi rally star Hayden Paddon will become the first New Zealander to contest a full European Rally Championship season when it gets underway next month.

Paddon and co-driver John Kennard are taking on a new challenge for 2023 with their entry into the FIA European Rally Championship (ERC).

The pair will drive a Hyundai i20 N Rally 2 car and start their 18th season of competition together in Portugal on March 11.

They’ll contest seven of the eight ERC rounds, visiting Portugal, Poland, Latvia, Sweden, Italy, Czech Republic and Hungary.

This year’s campaign marks Paddon’s first full championship season in Europe since 2017.

The ERC was first run in 1953 and, during its 70-year history, the championship title has never been won by a non-European. Previous champions include Walter Rohl, Miki Biasion, Piero Liatti and Andreas Mikkelsen, so Paddon appreciates the intensity of the competition he’ll face.

Paddon’s 2023 season will be complemented with a full New Zealand campaign and an expanded programme with the Hyundai Kona EV rally car to cover about 20 events in 40 weeks.

“Following the European events we contested in a Hyundai Rally2 car last year, there was plenty to consider about the events and budgets. This year we have made the decision to focus on ERC for a couple of key reasons,” Paddon said.

“Firstly, the budget is more achievable while still competing in a top FIA championship. Secondly, from a personal perspective, fighting for rally wins rather than class wins is more appealing.

“I’m at a different point of my career now, and ERC looks like an enjoyable campaign to keep Hyundai NZ Rally and PRG (Paddon Rallysport Group) in Europe while competing with a serious chance of winning rallies.

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