The newly-established New Zealand World Rally Team with New Zealand's top rally pairing Hayden Paddon and John Kennard head to Europe early next week to finish preparations for the team's debut in Portugal's World Rally Championship event.

Vodafone Rally de Portugal runs from 24 to 27 March and Paddon and Kennard will be competing in the Production World Rally Championship category as they did last year as part of the sponsored Pirelli Star Driver team. However, this year, the pair has their own team and drives a brand-new Subaru.

Before the Portuguese event starts, Paddon and Kennard have a two-day test in Spain in their new Subaru Impreza Group N rally car with engineers from Symtech, the Belgium-based team who will run the car.

"It's been an amazing and very busy few months since we finished with the Pirelli scheme last November. We've set up our team and the investment company behind it, confirmed the car supply and running deal with Symtech, talked to prospective sponsors and launched the team," says the 23-year-old from Geraldine in New Zealand's South Island.

"The public support has been phenomenal and, while we're still looking for a major sponsor, it's great to be able to focus on doing what I know how to do best and get back behind the wheel of a rally car next week."

Paddon notes: "The roads in Spain we're using for the test are quite similar to Portugal, so this offers us a great opportunity to get to know the car in a genuinely competitive situation. From all our communication with Dirk, Wim and the guys at Symtech so far, they've been excellent to deal with.

"I feel that our testing prior to the event will give me plenty of time to adapt to the new car while also getting it fine tuned for my driving style."

Recently Paddon made the most of the chance to drive a locally-owned Subaru rally car and noted some distinct differences to the Mitsubishis he's driven for most of his competitive career. "With the Subaru, you can carry a lot more corner speed in particular the slower second and third gear corners, so that provides some benefits."

Looking ahead to Portugal, Paddon says his main competitors in the Production World Rally Championship category are also in Subarus.

"There are about 16 PWRC entries this year, which is pretty strong. Among the top guys in Subarus are last year's PWRC runner-up Patrik Flodin, from Sweden (who was excluded from the opening PWRC round in Sweden due to a technical infringement) and also Norwegian Anders Grondal (who also scored no points in Sweden).

"At the moment Czech Martin Semerad leads the PWRC points, but the thing to remember about the PWRC is that while there are seven rounds of the WRC which are open to PWRC competitors, each of us can only nominate six of those seven events.

"We weren't ready to contest Sweden, understandably, so will be running at all six remaining events this season. After Portugal we have Argentina at end of May, Finland at the end of July, Australia in September, Spain in October and finishing with Great Britain in November."

Paddon's preparation for Portugal has included extensive reviews of in-car footage from this event last year.

"I've been able to go through all our pace notes while watching the in-car footage. Most of the competitive stages are the same this year, so it's actually interesting to see how much you recall and the extent to by which I was able to refine and improve the pace notes. We struggled with our pace notes in Portugal last year, so we are rectifying that problem before we get there.

"John and I are looking forward to doing an event we've done before. This year we will have the advantage of knowing how to get around, knowing a bit about the culture - it's exciting doing new events, but it's also good to feel more comfortable going back to an event for the second time. One factor which may change is the road conditions - Rally Portugal is running two months earlier than it did last year, so it could be a lot wetter. That's something of an unknown at this point."

Paddon says he's focussed on achieving a good result in Portugal to show prospective sponsors what he can do with the new team and car. "It's been fantastic, getting our New Zealand World Rally Team launched, but things have hit a plateau at the moment. There's still a funding shortfall to find, so we want a good result in Portugal to show what we can do."

Realistically, Paddon says he's aiming for a top two finish. "We'd like to try and win, but it's a long championship so first we have to finish and score points in every round."

After the devastating earthquake that struck Christchurch over 2 weeks ago, Hayden and the team have been helping in the appeal to get the city back up and running again.

"It is very close to home for us as many of our friends, family and team come from Christchurch. We have made donations to auctions where we can and will be running the Red Cross fundraiser appeal decals on our car in Portugal. The biggest thing I feel we can do for New Zealand however is to go to Portugal, wave the New Zealand flag with pride and portray to Europe that New Zealand is still here, standing and going strong. The tourism industry is an important part to our economy, so we want to help encourage people to keep visiting" said Hayden.

Paddon and the New Zealand World Rally Team appreciates the support of Subaru, EDL Fasteners, Chicane, Cameron Sea and Air Freight, All About Signs, Radio Sport, Radio Hauraki, Raisey Sports Nutrition, Resene Automotive, Endless Brakes, Castrol, Granger Design, Reaction Racing, Pope Print, Brita Safety, In-tune Automotive and Rally Tours NZ.
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