Hayden Paddon embarked upon his 2023 European Rally Championship campaign aiming to become the first non-European driver ever to claim the title.
This weekend’s Barum Rally Zlín offers him his first realistic chance to achieve it.
“We are in a good position to try and wrap up the European Rally Championship this week but it will be no easy task with one of the trickiest rallies of the season,” Paddon said.
“The mindset and approach is the same; however, the target for the rally is to drive accordingly to secure the points needed for the championship.”
It speaks volumes for Paddon’s season that his weakest result of the year so far was his third place on last month’s Rally di Roma.
The New Zealander has led the championship from start to finish, topping the season-opening Rally Serras de Fafe and stringing together an impressive run of second places over the next four rounds in Spain, Poland, Latvia and Sweden before grabbing third in Italy.
It leaves him 55 points clear of closest challenger Mārtiņš Sesks (before dropped scores are factored in) heading into round seven of eight.
So what does Paddon need to do to become ERC champion this weekend, one round early?
Each ERC competitor is afforded one dropped score from eight rounds, meaning their best seven scores will count towards the final championship standings.
Paddon’s current drop is 21 for that third place in Rome, while Sesks doesn’t have a score to drop as he crashed out of the same event and therefore registered zero points on the board.
With those dropped scores considered, Paddon currently leads Sesks by 34 points with 142 to the Latvian’s 108.
|Points with drop
In ERC, the maximum number of points available on any weekend is 35: a rally win yields 30 points while there are five on offer for fastest time on the powerstage.
Crucially, if Paddon didn’t score and Sesks scooped 35, the MRF driver would still be 20 points adrift of the Hyundai New Zealand pilot heading to Hungary (because Paddon would get to count his points from Rome and drop his 0 score instead).
If Sesks does claim all 35, Paddon would need to score 16 points in the Czech Republic – requiring fifth place or as low as eighth with enough powerstage points.
If Sesks claims 34 points, Paddon needs 15 and so on.
The key number is 36. If Paddon’s lead stands at 36 or more after Barum Rally Zlín, he will be crowned champion.
If Sesks doesn’t score, then he cannot stop Paddon claiming the title, as his maximum points possible would be 143, whereas Paddon’s minimum total is 163. Therefore Sesks needs a minimum of 20 points – equivalent to third place, or as low as sixth with maximum powerstage points – this weekend to keep the championship alive.
There’s a few permutations to keep an eye on as the weekend plays out, but either way Paddon’s season has been extraordinary to date.
“His consistency has been incredible – to be on the podium on every round so far is quite something,” ERC championship manager Iain Campbell told DirtFish.
“The other part that I really appreciate is he’s incredibly humble about the competition he’s been up against, in that I think it’s been quicker than he anticipated.
Paddon concluded: “For John [Kennard, co-driver], the team and I to be in this position is an accumulation of hard work, and to have a chance to add our name alongside previous champions such as Walter Röhrl, Miki Biasion, Piero Liatti, Armin Schwarz, Bruno Thiry, Esapekka Lappi and Andreas Mikkelson (just to name a few) is a humbling position to be in.
“Now to get the job done!”
Paddon could only manage the ninth fastest run in this morning’s qualification stage, although that was still ahead of Sesks, in 13th.