New Zealand's first rally world champion, Hayden Paddon, and co-driver John Kennard are in Finland this weekend for round four of the WRC S2000 championship.
Paddon has won two of the previous three rounds including his last outing on home soil at Rally New Zealand. He holds a 19-point lead over equal second drivers Irishman Craig Breen and Swedish driver Per-Gunnar Andersson.
Aside from Paddon's good news that he's leading the championship, it's also good to note that Breen is re-entering the championship after the death of his co-driver Gareth Roberts in an accident during the non-championship Targa Florio Rally in Sicily two months ago.
Although Paddon won in New Zealand it was more good luck than good management and at the halfway stage of the championship the Kiwi pair have decided to change teams. Paddon and Kennard will drive a different Skoda Fabia S2000 rally car from the one they used to win the SWRC class at Rally New Zealand last month, because they've joined Austrian outfit Baumschlager Rallye & Racing (BRR) for the rest of this year.
"We want to thank everyone at ASM Motorsport for working alongside us and helping us to achieve in our current position leading the Super 2000 World Rally Championship," Paddon said. "We came to a mutual agreement and everyone's happy. It all happened at the same time an opportunity came up with BBR who we'd been talking to last year.
"Obviously it's not the ideal situation to be changing teams halfway through the season but it's what we think will help us best for the rest of the year."
BRR is no stranger to the category, having run the factory-supported Skoda Fabia S2000 rally cars in the WRC for the past three seasons and last year the team ran the Skoda in which Finn Juho Hannien won the SWRC title.
Paddon will face his stiffest competition this time out on the flying roads of Finland as all nine points' holders will be at the event. On top of those drivers hunting to eat into Paddon's series lead, there are another eight drivers in S2000 or Group N R4 cars including Volkswagen Motorsport drivers Frenchman Sebastien Ogier and Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen returning in similar Skoda Fabia S2000 cars.
"We're feeling really good for the weekend. It's one of my favourite rallies and it's very fast with lots of jumps," Paddon said. "There's some serious competition in the S2000 class for the first time this year. The results to date this year have been good. However, we have not been able to yet show the speed we want to. We want to be fighting for every second during the rally to see how we go against the competition. In the past two rallies we've had a huge lead and haven't really been pushed.
"Here there are about six drivers who are very fast so it's going to give us lots of competition."
With 303.52km of Finland's high-speed, tree-lined roads, Paddon and Kennard will travel more than 1300km touring between stages and back to the Jyvaskylapavilion rally headquarters and service park.By Eric Thompson