Paddon wants to become first non-European to win ERC

The Hyundai New Zealand driver has committed to a full European championship campaign

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History, as far as Hayden Paddon’s concerned, is there to be re-written. Especially the line in European Rally Championship history which reveals nobody from outside of that continent has ever won the ERC crown.

This year, Paddon fancies sitting Europe’s most prestigious rallying silverware on the shelf in his South Island home in New Zealand.

Driving a Hyundai i20 N Rally2 backed by Hyundai New Zealand, the former Production World Rally champion will take on a stellar ERC field, starting with next weekend’s Rally Serras de Fafe.

Having toyed with the idea of a WRC2 program for this year, a trio of outings at the world championship’s second tier last season forced a re-think.

“Even doing those events on a shoestring it was still beyond our budget,” Paddon told DirtFish.

But there’s more to the Kiwi’s European assault than the financial side.

He added: “One of the things that really appeals is the ability to win rallies outright. Rally2 cars are the showpiece car of the ERC, it’s what people go to watch.

“I’m a competitive person and winning rallies means a lot. With the ERC, you’re competing at the pointy end and you’re still getting the same coverage with All Live and, don’t forget, there’s some serious history in the European Rally Championship.

“This thing’s been going for 70-plus years and the fact no non-European has ever won it is also a draw.”

The ERC’s ever-improving profile under the guidance of WRC Promoter is underlined by Paddon’s arrival from the planet’s far side.

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“The coverage is good,” he said. “But from a Hyundai New Zealand perspective, they want to get a program where we can showcase that we’re competitive and Kiwi rally fans can still get behind us and support us.

“As well as that we want to keep our name, my name and the team name in Europe. It’s about raising awareness of Hyundai New Zealand and what we do as a team. As most people know, future technology is something that’s a big part of what we do. We have the EV rally car (the Kona Electric Vehicle) and to be able to talk about that and let people know what we’re doing is great.

“Yes, we might be a small team, but we’re all there – we have engineers, drivers, everything that’s needed if somebody wants to work with us.”

Not many people have beaten Sébastien Ogier in a straight fight to win Rally Argentina. Paddon did just that in 2016 and he knows he’s going to have to make a similarly quick but strategic approach stick across the season if he’s to land European glory.

He said: “I’m hoping to use our experience in this championship. Early doors it doesn’t have to be about going all out for the wins; yes I want to win rallies, but the point is to win the championship and maybe to do that you have to take a slightly more methodical approach.

“Looking at the rallies: Fafe, we’ve done a couple of stages on the rally [Portugal] in 2018; Latvia we obviously did last year and in Poland there’s probably some stuff we did in ’17. I would imagine Sweden will be similar to what we’ve done [at Rally Sweden] except without the snow.

“The gravel rallies, we’ve got some experience. The three Tarmac rallies, we have no experience.

“Look, I’m definitely excited. I’m really looking forward to how competitive it’s going to be. There’s going to be a dozen drivers fighting for a podium on every rally. And just look at that entry for Fafe, that really is what you call an entry list!”