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The kiwi European Rally Champion: Q&A with Hayden Paddon

He came from New Zealand to conquer the Old Continent. Hayden Paddon won the 2023 edition of the FIA European Rally Championship with one round to spare, celebrating the title at the end of the Barum Czech Rally Zlín. Despite the DNF in the Czech Republic event, Paddon and his co-driver John Kennard became mathematically out of reach for all the rivals in the overall standings.

Credit goes to the great results the experienced Kiwi driver secured in the previous rounds, starting with the success at the Rally Serras by Fafe and Felgueras season opener. Then, he scored five consecutive podium finishes at the wheel of the Hyundai i20 N Rally2 fielded by the BRC Racing Team.

Paddon thus enriched his trophy cabinet, which already includes five national titles and the victory of the PWRC in 2011, as well as more than 80 participations in the top class of the World Rally Championship with eight podium finishes.

Paddon’s latest achievement was helped by equipment by Racing Force Group, ranging from the Bell Racing helmet, paired with the Zeronoise communication systems, to the OMP racewear and car components.

Read what Hayden told us after his 2023 FIA ERC victory.

Hayden, you made history as the first non-European driver to win the European Rally Championship. What does it mean?
“It’s something very important for us. The title was our season target, but with the level of competition and all being new events for us, we knew the challenge was a big one. However, the whole team has been working incredibly hard throughout the year, and it’s increasingly satisfying when so much effort goes into it that we can pull it off”.

Can you describe to us your season? You started the campaign in an ideal way, winning Portugal’s Rally Serras de Fafe e Felgueiras. Then, you have always been extremely consistent.
“We didn’t expect to win the first round, so it was a nice surprise. That put the wheels in motion for the rest of the season, and even the two podiums at the tarmac rallies were unexpected. Through the mid part of the season, our points tally was building nicely and it became clear that we had to take a championship-focused approach on each event to continue that momentum. That took a little bit of the sting out when we were in a position to fight for two rally victories, simply as we were unable to afford a zero point score”.

You faced some late drama at Rally Zlin, but you still could secure the title.
“The last rally didn’t go fully to plan, but the only target was to win the title. We just made a little more exciting a weekend we will always remember”.

Is this ERC title your career’s most prestigious achievement?
“In terms of championship wins – 100 per cent. Nothing will ever beat our first WRC win, but this is the accumulation of a season’s work”.

You compete using a wide range of Racing Force Group products. Let’s start by talking about the Bell Racing helmets: what features do you appreciate the most?
“From the first time I started using the Bell Racing helmets, two years ago, after ten years with a different brand, I was immediately impressed with how comfortable it was. But even better has been the intercom sound quality, which has been superior”.

What are the characteristics you consider essential for your helmet?
“Comfort, safety and quality of sound. Durability is also important, as in the rally discipline the helmets get thrown around a bit. However, I have had no problems with mine”.

Bell helmets are deeply integrated with the Zeronoise communication systems. How can our audio technology help the driver and the co-driver during a rally event?
“I have found the audio quality to be very high, but I especially like the noise canceling, as with a modern day rally car there is a lot of loud noise and rattles. I like to reduce this background noise to be able to process the co-driver information well”.

Given your relationship with Hyundai Motorsport, you also use OMP racewear and car parts. Give us your feedback.
“I love the OMP race suits and race equipment. Light weight and comfort are the key features, and again, in the rally world, all these products have a very hard time – but all stand the punishment and season”.

It seems you have many projects and ambitions. Are you already working on 2024 plans?
“We still have a busy New Zealand season remaining for 2023 so we have to focus on that, but we are now starting to think about 2024 and how we can build on the success of this year. It will include an international program, but we have to see what is possible. Also, the continued development of our electric rally car is important for our NZ team, and we look to bring that on an international scale”.

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