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The Kiwi world champion pairing of Hayden Paddon and John Kennard got off to a flying start at Neste Oil Rally Finland, storming through the first special stage as the quickest competitors in the Super 2000 World Rally Championship category and 12th quickest overall.
 
Highlighting their pace in the new Baumschlager Rallye & Racing (BRR)-prepared car, Paddon and Kennard were just two seconds slower than French star driver Sébastien Ogier in a similar Skoda Fabia S2000-spec car through the first 13.68 km stage. Ogier isn’t registered for SWRC points, but provides an important benchmark for the Kiwis.
 
With three stages now run in the bright sunshine of a Finnish summer evening on Thursday, local driver and new SWRC entrant Esapekka Lappi in a Ford Fiesta has the overnight lead in the SWRC category, just 1.5 seconds ahead of Paddon and Kennard. Swedish driver Per-Gunnar Andersson is third, 12.6 seconds down on Paddon while Irishman Craig Breen completed his first day back in SWRC after losing friend and co-driver Gareth Roberts in June and holds fourth overnight.
 
“Surprisingly our times have been quite good and they have been coming quite easily, which is a testimony to how well the car is working,” says Paddon from the Jyvaskyla service park on Thursday evening.
 
“The feeling inside the car is quite different and it is taking a little bit of adapting to, but nevertheless the early signs are looking good.
 
“Tomorrow [Friday] is a long day with over 600 km altogether and around 133 km of special stages which are quite different, with a lot more jumps and softer surfaces due to a relatively wet Finnish summer so far. We’re expecting these will cut up, especially on the second run through.
 
“We will look to try and up the pace tomorrow as we are currently 1.6 seconds behind the SWRC leader who is a local, while our nearest championship rivals are more than 10 seconds behind. We are also only four and a bit seconds behind Ogier, so we are happy.”
 
Paddon comes into this Finnish event at the top of the SWRC points-table with 62 points, giving him a 19 point margin over equal second placeholders Breen and Andersson.
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