Despite a chunk of time out of the international rally circuit, former production world rally champions Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard proved they still have what it takes to be in the mix.
New Zealanders Paddon and Kennard were in Finland over the weekend to work on their World Rally Championship campaign after spending time back home contesting the domestic series.
The pair had raced in a one-off round of the European Rally Championship in Ypres, Belgium, in a Ford Fiesta S2000. They were on pace for a podium finish at their first tilt at the specialist tarmac event and were in contention the entire rally, even winning a stage on day one, only to crash out towards the end of the rally on stage 14.
However, the hit-out proved its worth, as Paddon was quick in his Skoda Fabia S2000 after day one in Finland lying fourth in class and the leading crew running a non-turbocharged Super 2000 spec car.
The other competitors in the top five are either running the new Ford Fiesta R5 or a Citroen DS3 RRC, both turbo-charged.
Paddon was consistently in the top six, with his best stage result being second quickest behind Finn Jari Ketomaa on the afternoon's longest stage and finished third overall.
"Overnight we are sitting fourth equal in the WRC2 category and we have been happy with our pace," said Paddon.
"Second to sixth places are separated by just a few seconds, so it is close at the top of this class. We are the leading S2000 car, which is important to us as it seems some of these new cars are quite fast."
The flying Kiwis continued the good form on the rally and at the start of Saturday's final eight stages, Paddon and Kennard were focused on staying in that podium position. They had moved into a solid third place during Friday's nine stages despite hitting a rock and breaking the suspension in the second-to-last stage.
They started the final day just under two minutes behind former Formula One driver Robert Kubica, of Poland, in second, with Finn Jari Ketomaa in front of the WRC2 class.
Paddon's competitive stage times during the morning's loop of four stages put the Kiwi consistently in the top three, just a second or two slower than stage winners Ketomaa and Esapekka Lappi.
Paddon and Kennard were second quickest of the WRC2 competitors on both runs through the Ouninpohja stage and were never outside the top four all day. Overall, they finished the third day closing the margin on second-placed Kubica and widening the gap back to Yazeed Al Rajhi in fourth.
"It is always a great feeling to finish on the podium in Finland, the spiritual home of rallying, and finishing third today gets our 2013 WRC campaign off to a great start," said Paddon.
"It is also a relief to get back on the podium in the WRC and to be the fastest S2000 competitor over the course of the rally was also pleasing.
"We had a trouble-free day and went at a steady pace on the morning loop when the stages were not too damaged, and then took it easy on the afternoon rougher stages.
"I love the fast stages, and we spent a lot of time in the stage jumping. It will be great to return to it again next year with revised notes and commit 110 per cent as that will be better than a rollercoaster."
The result is a very good one, especially when their international seat time has been limited this year.
"You have to remember we're up against cars that were only released a few months ago and the Skoda, while still a damn good car, is three years old," said Paddon. "The Skoda is a competitive car but we have to push that little bit harder.
"That last little bit of confidence will only come with a bit more seat time in the Skoda. We'll be able to push a bit harder in Germany, especially since we have another test soon in Austria."
The pair have been putting in the race kilometres in the New Zealand Rally Championship and after three rounds still lead the domestic series from Ben Hunt and Richard Mason.
Paddon is happy with the result considering how long it has been since they were last in the Skoda on gravel. The Baumschlager Rallye & Racing (BRR) team and Paddon reckon they're not at 100 per cent yet and are confident of finding a bit more pace in the car before the next round in Germany in three weeks.
"We hope to lift things another notch and climb further up the podium," he said.