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Top New Zealand rally driver Hayden Paddon heads back to Europe this week for his debut event as a Pirelli Star Driver in Rally of Turkey, the third round of the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship.

"It has felt like a long time coming but it is finally time to go rallying!" commented Hayden

Paddon, and co-driver John Kennard, are entirely focused on doing a good job in their first Pirelli Star Driver event, which is also Paddon's first WRC event in the Northern Hemisphere.

"I've been through the excitement phase, when we won this opportunity at Rally Australia last September," says the Geraldine-based 22-year-old. "Now we've got a job to do. We have goals for each event and, for Turkey, it's to get to know the car and the team. We aim to drive at a good pace, without taking unnecessary risks, to make it to the finish."

Paddon and the four other Pirelli Star drivers start Rally of Turkey among the production, or Group N, competitors in their identical Ralliart Italy-prepared Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X for the 358 km of competitive stages.

"We have only done 30km of testing in our Pirelli Evo X's in what is essentially a new car and new team for us all so as well as being competitive, this event is also about getting comfortable in our environment for the year ahead."

With the event based in Istanbul, many of the roads for this year's WRC event in Turkey have also been used for the Intercontinental Rally Championship (IRC) fairly recently, says Paddon.

"I have been able to find footage of competitors in action on these roads, which are described as generally fast, wide, smooth-surfaced gravel. I've been studying the character of the roads for myself, and I've also been looking at the footage of my own testing in the EVO X in Italy in March, assessing my driving style and considering options for improvement."

There's considerable history and places of note to delight most keen travellers, but Paddon says he's so wrapped up in the actual rally, he almost forgets he's in a foreign country.

Paddon and Kennard, from Blenheim, arrive in Istanbul on Saturday 10 April and have Sunday to acclimatise, before spending Monday preparing for reconnaissance on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"On Wednesday evening we have a launch for the Pirelli Star Drivers at the Pendik Service Parknear Istanbul. After Thursday's shakedown, we have the ceremonial start across the Bosphorus strait, from where the service park is located. The Bosphorus runs between the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara that becomes the Mediterranean, so all the teams and cars are being loaded on a ferry for a 'cruise' before the ceremonial start that evening.

"Friday to Sunday, it's the rally itself, when we'll be focused on our job of doing as well as we can. It's very exciting to have the opportunities afforded by the Pirelli Star Driver competition, and now it’s about doing the job. There's a lot of hard work to get to the next level and this is our chance to prove we can do it, so we're pretty serious about the actual rally and the fact that it's in another country is just another challenge of the sport."

Paddon explains his international campaign for 2010.

"Our Pirelli Star Driver scholarship win means we contest six WRC events, which are Turkey, Portugal in May, Finland in July, Germany in August, France in September and Great Britain in November.

"Four of these events are also Production World Rally Championship events, we have used the Rally New Zealand Rising Stars International Award scholarship funding towards entering two more PWRC events - Rally New Zealand in May and Japan in September - which ensures we meet the FIA requirements to complete six PWRC events to earn points for this world championship. This campaign gives us the best possible chance to demonstrate our abilities on the world stage and get the results we need to get to the next level in world rallying."

Paddon and Kennard will be back in New Zealand on 21 April and will turn their attention to their PWRC campaign which starts with Rally New Zealand from 6 to 9 May.

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