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New Zealand’s top rally driver Hayden Paddon gets back into full World Rally Championship mode with this week’s Neste Oil Rally Finland.
Paddon is looking for a good result to boost himself into the top rungs of the competitive WRC2 class, which replaces the former FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship.
Back in a Skoda Fabia Super 2000-spec car for the first time in eight months, Paddon acknowledges he and long-time co-driver John Kennard have their work cut out for them being one of 24 crews entered for the WRC2 championship.
“The top ten or 12 drivers entered in WRC2 are all capable of a podium result, so it’s going to be intensely competitive on this very fast gravel rally,” says Paddon after a successful test in the Skoda prepared by Austria-based team Baumschlager Rallye & Racing (BRR).
“Of course our target is to win,” says the 2011 FIA Production World Rally Champion. “However there are a lot of unknowns such as the new R5-spec cars competing in the WRC2 class. We’ve heard the R5 Fiestas are fast – they are turbo-charged while the S2000 cars are not, so that means there will be places where they have an advantage.”
Competing under a refreshed team name as the Stadium Cars New Zealand World Rally Team, Paddon will be contesting Rally Finland for the fourth time, making it the European WRC event of which he has the most experience.
“I really enjoy the Finnish event; I love the fast roads and it’s great to be back on gravel. Unfortunately we didn't get to experience much of the event last year [after engine failure forced Paddon out when in second place just 1.5 seconds behind Finnish star Esapekka Lappi] but we have enough knowledge and experience of the specialist roads to mount an attack,” says Paddon.
“What’s great about it is the speed – it’s one of the fastest WRC events and has a lot of blind crests and jumps. The key is to have good pace notes and commit to them 100 per cent – with this in mind, John and I have been working a lot on our notes.”
Paddon’s test with BRR in Austria last Thursday provided much needed ‘seat time’.
“It is a different kettle of fish being back in a S2000 car on gravel and it’s has been nearly 12 months since our last gravel rally in the Skoda, so it did take a little of time to adapt back into the car. But we have a good team around us which allowed us to get everything working well and the feeling with the car came back very quickly.”
A number of leading WRC2 competitors are not going to Finland, but Paddon is up against Polish former Formula 1 driver Robert Kubica, winner of the WRC2 class in Greece and Italy, Norwegian speedster Eyvind Brynildsen and rising Welsh star Elfyn Evans. Paddon also notes Jari Ketoma and Karl Kruda, both in the new Ford Fiesta R5s, and Esapekka Lappi as others to watch.
The Finnish event sees Paddon and Kennard complete their reconnaissance of the rally stages from Monday to Wednesday this week, before Wednesday evening’s shakedown runs. The rally commences on Thursday 1 August and ends on Saturday 3 August. With 23 special stages ahead of them, the Kiwi pair face 324.21 competitive kilometres plus 1,255.81 kilometres of touring stages to complete a total distance in three days of 1,580.02 kilometres.
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