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WRC2 and NZRC honours for Paddon and Kennard

Kiwi rally star Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard won the FIA World Rally2 Championship category at this weekend’s Repco Rally New Zealand in their Hyundai i20 N Rally2, setting themselves up nicely for next year’s aim of competing in and winning the global WRC2 Championship.

Hayden Paddon and John Kennard win WRC2 Category at Rally New Zealand 2022

Paddon also wrapped up his sixth New Zealand Rally Championship title and was the first New Zealander in the overall standings for the rally, both honours that he says reflect the huge amount of work put in by the Hyundai New Zealand Rally team.

The hugely popular New Zealand pair were delighted to show their pace on home roads in a world-class event as the WRC ran in New Zealand for the first time in ten years.

The rally ran from 29 September to 2 October with 275 km over 17 special stages and took competitors from the rally base on Auckland’s waterfront southwest to Whaanga Coast near Raglan, northwest to the Kaipara Hills and wrapping up near Whitford on a purpose-built rally stage.

Paddon and Kennard, from Cromwell and Blenheim respectively, opened proceedings as the first to run during Thursday evening’s Pukekawa Auckland Domain super special stage in front of tens of thousands of Kiwi rally fans. While the damp conditions made the wet asphalt tricky, Paddon enjoyed the vibe of getting back into top level competition on home turf.

Friday’s 160km leg was a long day of competition, in fact, the longest of any WRC event this season, which included the famed Whaanga Coast stage near Raglan. Teams were allowed only a tyre change, rather than a full service on their cars, meaning careful strategy and planning were required.

Paddon ran 11th on the road, and first of the WRC2 competitors. Rain made conditions slippery but the Kiwis were able to show their skills on home roads, coming through the six special stages with a one minute, 1.5 second lead over Polish driver Kajetan Kajetanowicz in the WRC2 category. They held 10th overall for the morning leg until WRC1 competitor Craig Breen crashed out, moving them up into ninth overall.

Paddon describes managing tyre wear in the muddy conditions as tough for everyone so was pleased to get through the day, securing maximum points for the fifth round of this year’s NZRC (which were Friday’s six special stages). The result earned Paddon his sixth NZRC title with one round to go (that being the Saturday leg).

Saturday’s weather was even wetter as crews navigated the hills inland of the Kaipara Harbour and over to Puhoi, delivering testing conditions for all competitors. Paddon says it was a clean and tidy day with no mistakes as he balanced speed with taking sufficient care of the car to make it through the six stages. Paddon delivered another dominant performance in the WRC2 category, extending his lead to over two minutes by day’s end over Kajetanowicz with fellow Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen third. And, courtesy of two WRC1 competitors rolling and crashing out of contention, Paddon and Kennard moved up the overall leader-board into sixth place.

A second day of maximum NZRC points for Paddon and Kennard meant the NZRC manufacturer’s championship went to Hyundai New Zealand and the team’s championship title went to Paddon Rallysport with their two-car team comprising Paddon and Kennard, and Ari Pettigrew and Jason Farmer.

The final and third leg of Rally New Zealand took place south of Auckland in the Whitford Forest and the purpose-built Jacks Ridge rally stage. With the gravel roads still wet and drizzle interspersed with sunshine, over 13,000 rally fans enjoyed the action. Paddon continued his momentum, winning three of the four stages to secure the WRC2 category victory with a final margin of two minutes, 33.1 seconds over second-placed Kajetanowicz.

Paddon says: “We ticked all the boxes with this event, thanks to a big team effort, to win WRC2 and the NZRC titles. Having built up a lead on Friday morning, from then on there’s a huge amount of pressure to make no mistakes until the end. I’m pleased that part of it is over, to be honest, as I don’t really enjoy that kind of pressure when you’ve got everything to lose.

“The conditions were tricky throughout the weekend which is quite typical of Rally New Zealand and gives it a bit of character.

“The result does lead into our goal of putting together a full campaign for next year in WRC2. We don’t yet have the budget so that’s the first thing to work on. We’d love to not only do the full WRC2 season next year but also aim to do some one-off rallies in a Rally1 car.

“It’s a massive achievement to secure the NZRC manufacturer’s and team’s championships this weekend as well. It truly reflects all the work that everyone’s put in all year. I’m really proud to represent Hyundai New Zealand.”

Andy Sinclair, CEO of Hyundai New Zealand, says: “We are thrilled for Hayden, John and the Hyundai New Zealand Rally team. They started strong and held on to the lead, delivering a solid performance throughout. What a dream to win a WRC category in our home country with a Kiwi team. We couldn’t be more proud. This result sets the tone for what’s to come in the 2023 WRC2 season and we can’t wait.”

Paddon and Hyundai New Zealand Rally appreciate the support of Hyundai New Zealand, Mitre 10 Trade, Z Energy, Makita, Bailey Caravans, Ben Nevis Station, Winmax Brakes, Gravity Internet, Pak N’ Save, Bars Bugs, Pirelli, OMP/Racer Products, Mike Greer Homes, Bartercard, Accessman, Sign It Signs, Carters Tyre Service, ETCO, MITO and Provident Insurance.

Keep up with news on Hayden Paddon and the Hyundai New Zealand Rally team via the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/paddonrallysport.

Article by Kate Gordon-Smith. Images by Tayler Burke.