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Kiwi rally star Hayden Paddon is all set to put his best foot forward as he and UK co-driver Sebastian Marshall tackle their first World Rally Championship event together at the 18-21 May running of Rally de Portugal.

Seb Marshall (left) will replace John Kennard at the Rally of Portugal.Marshall was scheduled to take over from Paddon’s long-time co-driver John Kennard at Rally Finland in July, but Kennard is sitting out for Portugal on medical advice due to a hip injury.

“It’s unfortunate situation with John,” says Paddon, “but I’m excited to be working with Seb on a WRC event for the first time. We have prepared well together and we are both ready to put our best foot forward. This will not affect our performance on the rally at all.”

Kennard will still be in Portugal, assisting Paddon, Marshall and the Hyundai Motorsport team wherever he can. “While it’s certainly hard to be out of the car,” says Kennard, “it allows me some more options on treatment of an ongoing problem. I’m totally sure Seb will do a great job and hopefully it will help inject some positivity back into what has become a difficult first part of the season.”

Twenty-seven-year-old Marshall is excited by the opportunity: “It’s an earlier than planned debut but something that I’m hugely excited about and motivated to do our best. Hayden and I have been working together for quite a while now so I feel well prepared to jump in and take on the challenge of Rally de Portugal. Of course, my best wishes to John too… I know how hard it can be to sit out an event due to doctor’s orders!”

This will be Paddon’s sixth time contesting the classic gravel-surface rally, which is based near Porto, in the north of Portugal. “I have always enjoyed Portugal,” Paddon says. “We have many good memories from PWRC and SWRC there and the country is hugely passionate about rallying. My engineer Rui is also Portuguese so I know the rally has special meaning to him.”

In terms of on-road preparation, Paddon says: “We tested last in Portugal two months ago. We also recently tested for two days in Sardinia which was about confirming settings for both Portugal and the next event in Sardinia. We have found some small things that are helping me to find the feeling with the car, but we have to wait and see how that translates on the rally.”

Running eighth on the road for Friday’s opening leg, Paddon says: “The roads are generally quite sandy based, but after Argentina the stages will seem very smooth. Some small ruts and holes appear on the second pass but nothing too dramatic. Portugal is generally quite easy on tyres which helps to make tyre choice easier. Maybe in the afternoon loops we may consider the hards but this will depend on the weather.”

Marshall adds: “Rally Portugal is an event I’ve only started twice but have been at for the past seven years so I know the workings of it very well. The large number of passionate fans make for an exciting atmosphere on the stages, and contribute to it being an enjoyable event for a co-driver.

The 2017 edition of Rally de Portugal marks the gravel-surface rally’s 50th anniversary with WRC competitors Toyota and Citroën running each running four crews for the first time, while Hyundai fields the three driver/co-driver combinations Paddon/Marshall, Neuville/Gilsoul and Sordo/Marti.

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