Top Kiwi rally pairing Hayden Paddon and John Kennard have enjoyed tremendous success in recent events in New Zealand, but they're not underestimating the high-speed challenges of their next event, Rally Finland, which runs 29 to 31 July.
Paddon, from Geraldine, and Kennard, from Blenheim, depart New Zealand for the iconic World Rally Championship event on 21 July and, as usual, Paddon has done all he can to prepare for a rally he's never contested before.
The Finnish rally is the first of Paddon's combined Pirelli Star Driver and Production World Rally Championship events. Last year, then aged 22, Paddon won the opportunity to be one of five Pirelli Star Drivers, a global driver development programme which sees the five young drivers contest six selected WRC events in a Ralliart Italy-prepared Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X. Four of these events - Finland, Germany, France and Great Britain - are also rounds of the Production World Rally Championship. PWRC entrants need to contest six rounds to qualify for points, so Paddon used funding from the Rally New Zealand Rising Stars International Award to add Rally New Zealand and Rally Japan to his PWRC schedule.
"Rally Finland is very important in terms of the Production World Rally Championship," says Paddon. "Realistically it's a very tough event with the roads famous for the crests and jumps. The stages are very fast, up 180 to 200 km/h and maybe more in places over blind crests, so car positioning over crests will be vital.
"There are some very fast Scandinavian drivers in the PWRC including some local wildcard entries, so this is probably one of our toughest challenges of the year.
"A dream result would be a PWRC podium placing, but it will be tough. We're looking to lift our performance another gear. We've had great results in New Zealand since May but competing offshore is a completely different kettle of fish. We want to prove that we can perform at the top level of the sport and there is no better place than Finland to do that - the spiritual home of rallying."
Paddon's preparation for Finland has included reviewing Mark Tapper's in-car footage from that event last year - Tapper was the first Kiwi to win a Pirelli Star Driver opportunity, tackling six WRC events in 2009, just as Paddon is doing this year.
"I've been looking at the shape of the crests - what we'll see during reconnaissance driving at about 60 km/h is obviously nothing like what we'll experience during competition at well over 150 km/h and it is a matter of judging what crests you do and don't leave the ground on."
Paddon says he continues to work on his fitness. "That's a vital part of this year's development of me. I'm fitter than I ever have been before and I have several more goals still to achieve."
Rally Finland has a different format to many three-day WRC events in recent years. Organisers have elected for one short stage on the Thursday, followed eleven stages, or 147 km, on Friday and eight stages, or 162 km on the Saturday. Paddon gets to test the Pirelli-backed Mitsubishi on Monday 26 July with the aim of developing the same complete confidence he has with his own EVO IX. "We want that same comfortable, instinctive feeling we have with our own car and more time behind the wheel is what helps us achieve that."
Paddon says: "For this and the next PWRC round in Germany, my first primarily tarmac event, my goal is to demonstrate the outright speed we've been working on and to score as many PWRC points as we can to add to the maximum of 25 we earned for Rally New Zealand.
"Watching Mark's footage, I think I’ll enjoy Finland more than Portugal and Turkey. My gut instinct is that I'll find those roads to my liking, so the key will be recce and learning to judge those crests. It should be great!"
Hayden will have plenty of support at the Finnish event with both his family, friends and the official Rallytours group all making the trip to cheer the kiwi duo onto success.
"Our team here at home is a very close knit unit, so to have Dad, my partner Katie and our other family and friends coming over to support us is great as they have all been a pivotal part that has helped me get to this point in my career."
The Paddon RallySport team acknowledges the support of Pirelli, EDL Fasteners, Rallytours, Castrol, Contiki Tours, Paddon, MCA Suspension, Vicarage Lane Wines, Radio Hauraki, Radio Sport, Northend Ford, In-Tune Automotive, All About Signs, Total Automotive, Resene, FMG, Raiseys Nutrition, Andar the Front Store, Reaction Racing, Pope Print, Cameron Air & Seafreight and Bluebridge Ferries.
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