Hayden Paddon believes the fight to win this year’s European Rally Championship is now just a two-horse race with three of eight rounds remaining.
Paddon has led the ERC ever since round one, following victory on the season-opening Rally Serras de Fafe back in March.
From there he has continued to build his championship lead which currently stands at 34 points after last weekend’s Royal Rally of Scandinavia.
Although the Hyundai i20 N Rally2 pilot hasn’t won an event since Portugal, he’s yet to finish lower than second having recorded four successive runner-up finishes on the bounce.
With competitors able to drop one score from the eight rounds, that leaves Paddon in a commanding championship position – he could even miss a round and still be leading the way – but he isn’t counting his chickens just yet.
Asked if he sees himself as the championship favorite, Paddon told DirtFish: “No, not at all.”
But the prospect of three asphalt rallies to come, which traditionally hasn’t been Paddon’s preferred surface, doesn’t faze him in the slightest.
“I enjoy the Tarmac,” Paddon said.
“Barum will be the tough one for us if it’s wet and slippy. Rome I’m looking forward to – I think we have a really good package on Tarmac now and I’m certainly in a better place than what I’ve been on Tarmac in the past.
“I think with the Pirelli tires, everything’s a good all-round package, so I think we can still put up a good pace.
“But it’s looking like it’s more and more of a two-horse race now.”
He didn’t explicitly namecheck him, but Paddon likely sees the race to be with Latvian driver Mārtiņš Sesks, who won both Rally Poland and his local Rally Liepāja earlier this season in his MRF Tyres Škoda Fabia RS Rally2.
Sesks did well to limit his championship deficit to Paddon in Sweden, coming home third after a big fight with WRC2 driver Nikolay Gryazin. With second on the powerstage behind Paddon, that means Sesks dropped just four points to his rival.
MRF representative Vivek Ponnusamy was thoroughly impressed by Sesks’ performance at the weekend.
“This is more [impressive] than the win in Poland and Latvia for me, what a podium,” Ponnusamy told DirtFish.
“Martins showed he is a champion in the making, so I’m stoked. This result is like a win for us.”
The next round of the ERC is Rally di Roma on July 29/30.