New Zealand's top rally pairing Hayden Paddon and John Kennard came through the first day of Rally Finland - which comprised just three stages - third in the Production World Rally Championship category.
The margin between Paddon and overnight PWRC category leader Finnish driver Jarkko Nikara is 13.1s.
Paddon commented that the setup of his Belgium-based Symtech Racing Subaru STI rally car still wasn't to his liking through the approx. 40km of the event's first three stages which ran in the late afternoon and early evening of Thursday in Finland.
"We have completed tonight's three stages with no major drama and are in a good position to attack tomorrow for the lead," said Paddon from the service park in the university city of Jyvaskyla in central Finland.
"All things considered, our times have not been too bad, especially as we know that there is still a lot in reserve. The plan was to push hard, but with the lack of rear grip we have again had tonight, that wasn't entirely possible.
"The Symtech team are doing a fantastic job and we will make some more changes tonight so that the car is more stable in the fast sections. There is still a lot in reserve and the plan is to push hard tomorrow. We have two long days ahead of us and tomorrow's stages are particularly fast - just how I like them!"
Last year, Paddon, from Geraldine, and co-driver John Kennard, from Blenheim, contested the Finnish WRC event for the first time as part of their Pirelli Star Driver programme, finishing a very well-placed third among production category competitors.
Looking at Paddon's main competitors in the PWRC category - overnight PWRC leader Jarkko Nikara was one of the first group of Pirelli Star Drivers in 2009 (as was New Zealander Mark Tapper) and competed in the British Rally Championship last year. Holding second overnight is Swedish driver Patrik Flodin, who Paddon acknowledges is very fast.
However a poor start to the 2011 season sees Flodin currently eighth on the PWRC points-table with 19 points to Paddon's 50. Czech driver Martin Semerád, who equals Paddon at the top of the PWRC leader-board, finished day one in Finland in eighth place, 43s off the leader.
Paddon and Kennard face 134.6km split into eight special stages on Friday before 140.05km and eleven stages on Saturday before the 9pm finish that evening.
- HERALD ONLINE