Multiple New Zealand champion and WRC winner Hayden Paddon and co-driver Jared Hudson won this year’s Get Connected Rali Ceredigion.
Recording his first ever all-asphalt victory, Haddon described the event as one of the best rallies of its kind in the world.
After taking the lead on Saturday's fourth and final stage, driving a Hyundai i20 N R5, Paddon consolidated his advantage over Sunday’s eight stages to cross the line 38.7 seconds ahead of 2019 Rali Ceredigion winner Osian Pryce and co-driver on this occasion Noel O’Sullivan in a VW Polo GTi R5.
Driving a new Hyundai i20 N Rally 2, James Williams and Dai Roberts finished third, a further 1 minute 25.3 seconds back, whilst fourth place went to Ruairi Bell and Max Freeman in a Skoda Fabia Rally 2, who had been locked in battle all day with Gary Pearson and Dale Furniss who finished fifth in their Ford Fiesta WRC.
The first leg of the rally kicked off in Aberystwyth on Saturday evening with a brand-new street stage comprising two 0.56-mile runs through the town in front of thousands of spectators.
Competitors then headed inland for two considerably longer tests in the Ceredigion countryside which, tackled in the dark, were to prove decisive to the outcome of the rally. Leaders after stage three, Keith Cronin and Mikie Galvin, rolled their VW Polo GTi R5 not far from the start of SS4.
With the stage blocked, Paddon and Williams were held up and consequently, accredited with times that placed them in first and second places respectively, separated by just two seconds.
By virtue of running at car number one, Pryce was the only driver of the leading group to have made it through the stage unhindered. But with a turbo boost issue hampering his progress, the allocation of notional times to his two main rivals helped his cause and he ended the day 2.2 seconds behind Williams in third.
Overnight rain and indifferent forecasts meant that talk in the service area on Sunday morning was focused on tyres. Paddon and Williams opted for wets, whilst Pryce took a braver approach and went out to start the first loop of four stages in the Cambrian Mountains on slicks.
End-of-stage reports from the drivers made it clear that, in places, the surface was nothing short of treacherous - a fact confirmed by the number of incidents in the morning's stages, with recovery crews ensuring roads were cleared as quickly as possible.
Notable retirements included 2019 third-place finisher Jason Pritchard on stage five this year in a VW Polo R5, fourth at the overnight halt Meirion Evans - also in a Polo R5 - and local hero Gwyndaf Evans, who rolled his Mk2 Escort at the end of stage seven. Thankfully, everyone emerged from their respective episodes unscathed.
Quickly acclimatising to the conditions and with his turbo issues behind him, Pryce went two seconds quicker than anyone else through SS5, the 17-mile JDS Machinery Llanfihangel stage and in doing so, overhauled Williams to take second place.
Although not comfortable with his tyre choice, Paddon steadily increased the gap between him and Pryce during the morning. After swapping his tyres for slicks at the lunchtime service halt, the New Zealander further extended his advantage over the afternoon’s second loop of four stages, going on to win by a margin of 38.7 seconds.
With Paddon not registered for the British Rally Championship and his main rival for the title Cronin out of the running, Pryce took a relatively cautious approach in order to score maximum BRC points, rather than risk it all by fighting for his second Get Connected Rali Ceredigion victory.
Elevated to international status this year, the event hosted rounds of five major championships: Motorsport UK British Rally Championship, Protyre Asphalt Rally Championship, TER (Tour European Rally) series, FIA Celtic Rally Trophy and FIA European Rally Trophy.
Running further down the field and breaking new ground for British rallying was runner-up in this event in 2019, Tom Cave. Invited to compete in a Corsa-e prepared and managed by Myerscough College & University Centre as part of the rally’s sustainability initiative, Cave became the first driver to win a class for fully electric vehicles on a multi-venue stage rally in the UK.
Sustainability has been a key theme and focus of this year’s event, with organisers introducing a range of ground-breaking initiatives to minimise the rally’s environmental impact.
The rally is the first in the UK to more than offset the emissions associated with the entire competitive field in a move that will achieve a positive carbon outcome. In recognition of its work in this area, Get Connected Rali Ceredigion has become the first event of its kind in Britain to achieve FIA Environmental Accreditation.
Paddon said: “I’ve really loved this event. I can honestly say that it’s one of the best rallies of its kind anywhere in the world. The stages are awesome and the atmosphere has been great, especially for the two runs through the town on Saturday night.”
Chairman of the rally’s organising committee, Phil Pugh thanked everyone involved in the successful event.
“It has been a fantastic effort from the whole organising team - and can you believe we’ve had over 600 marshals with us this weekend?” he said. “It’s a massive turnout and we’re so grateful for their support. I hope Ceredigion has enjoyed it and we now have to look at where we go from here.”
Photos: Jakob Ebrey Photography
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