World champion rally duo Hayden Paddon and John Kennard are off to a flying start in 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 and Racing-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 on Thursday, local time, Finnish SWRC rival Esapekka Lappi in a Ford Fiesta has the overnight lead in the 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 tragically losing friend and co-driver Gareth Roberts in June. Breen is now 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," said Paddon from the Jyvaskyla service park.
"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, local time] 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 the event at the top of the SWRC table with 62 points, giving him a 19 point margin over equal second place holders Breen and Andersson.