Hayden Paddon's quest for success in this year's Production World Rally Championship starts with a Pirelli Star Driver training programme in Edinburgh, Scotland on 14 March.

Paddon, from Geraldine, and his Blenheim-based co-driver John Kennard leave New Zealand on 9 March to participate in the three-day fitness training and preparation programme being run at the Edinburgh University.

"It still seems a little surreal, not having had any physical contact with the team, Ralliart Italy which runs our Pirelli Star Driver cars, or the car itself at this point, with just over a month to our first rally in Turkey," says the 22-year-old double New Zealand rally champion.

"But it's fantastic that it is almost time to go rallying again!" enthuses Paddon. "This first Pirelli Star Driver trip to Europe signals the next major step in my international rallying career."

Paddon won the Asia Pacific round of the global Pirelli Star Driver competition during Rally Australia last September. The FIA-developed driver development programme provides Paddon with a fully-funded Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X in which to compete in six rounds of this year's World Rally Championship ? a prize worth around NZ $1 million. Four of these events offer the chance to earn points in the Production World Rally Championship (PWRC), and Paddon and Kennard will also contest two other world rallies ? Rally New Zealand and Rally Japan ? in order to put together a full six-round PWRC campaign.

Paddon describes the Edinburgh training programme as being similar to New Zealand's own Motorsport Academy.

"There will be rigorous fitness testing, and advice on nutrition and how to best prepare ourselves for the year ahead.

"Both John and I have been working on our fitness hard over the past 3-4 months. I have made a lot of progress and am fitter than I have been before, and still I am not halfway to where I want to be, so physical fitness is something that I will continue to build over the course of the year. It's definitely going to be a physically and psychologically demanding year, but also an extremely exciting year as John and I get to experience the fantastic challenges of rallying all over the world!"

Paddon and Kennard then fly to the northern Italian city of Sondrio to Ralliart Italy's operational base. As well as running the five identical bright-yellow Pirelli Star Driver cars, the team campaigns the Lancer EVO X of 2009 PWRC champion Armindo Araujo, who came third in the production class in this year's opening WRC round in Sweden.

"We spend another few days there, meeting the team and driving the cars for the first time. We'll have one day of tarmac testing and one day on gravel," says Paddon who is already familiar with a left-hand-drive Lancer rally car.

The Mitsubishis are the same cars used by last year's first five Pirelli Star Drivers which included New Zealander Mark Tapper.

"I am looking forward to driving the newer model Mitsubishi compared to the Evo IX that we campaign here. The Evo X is a bigger car, but they are also a lot more powerful and better balanced."

Having mechanics doing the work on the car will be different for Paddon, who does much of the between-event work on his own cars himself.

"I'll have enough to be dealing with without worrying about working on the cars! I imagine when we first get to Italy and sit in the car that it may take a moment to take it all in, because the journey really starts now.

"Right from the start, John and I have to make sure that we are on top of our game, because testing is restricted. We need to make the most of every possible opportunity to get behind the wheel of the EVO X and test it on various roads and set-ups. It's essentially an all-new car to us ? there will be many similarities with our EVO IX variant, but enough new things to keep us on our toes!"

Paddon and Kennard return New Zealand on 23 March and aim to fit in plenty more fitness training before jetting back to Europe and their first event as a Pirelli Star Driver team in Rally Turkey, based in Istanbul, starting on 15 April.

Paddon extends his thanks to sponsors Pirelli, Radio Hauraki, Radio Sport, EDL Fasteners, Castrol, RallyTours, Endless Brakes, Paddon, Contiki Tours, Rally New Zealand, All About Signs, MCA Suspension, Vicarage Lane Wines, Northend Ford, In-Tune Automotive, Total Automotive, Andar the Front Store, Resene, FMG, Reaction Racing, Pope Print and Bluebridge Ferries.

The comprehensive website, www.hayden-paddon.com, has full details of Paddon?s 2010 programme and offers opportunities to sign up for regular informative, chatty newsletters.

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