World Rally Championship driver Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard are hoping to build on their recent success in Poland this weekend at Rally Finland.
The Kiwi pair had a couple of spectacular crashes, including their Hyundai i20 rally car being destroyed by fire, in the two rallies before Poland, but came good getting on to the podium again. The third place finish saw Paddon move up the championship table to tuck in behind second placed Andre Mikkelsen with championship leader Sebastien Ogier holding sway at the top.
In this year's series it has been almost impossible to pick a rally winner with six different drivers, including Paddon, standing on top of the podium in the last seven rounds. Defending world champion Ogier started the season well winning the opening two races but it has been anyone's guess from then onwards.
Ogier may not have triumphed since Sweden, but he has been the most consistent driver in the field and has a healthy 51-point lead.
Paddon is 71 points behind in third place, and while he can be as fast as anyone on any given day, he needs to find the consistency of the Frenchman if he is to challenge for the title.
"We're really looking forward to Rally Finland as we've got plenty of experience here having already done it six times," said Paddon.
"We're comfortable in the environment and know what to expect from the conditions. Nearly half of this year's event is new so our pre-race recce was vitally important in getting the notes right.
"We want to be up the front like we were in Poland. The rally is fast so it suits me better than Poland so we should do well."
Rally Finland is based in the university town of Jyvaskyla and draws huge crowds with its classic; smooth, high-speed gravel stages and massive jumps. Paddon, and Kennard in particular as he lives near the event, regard this as their home rally. Paddon has always said he likes to push the envelope on these fast and furious events and is at his best when he's 100 per cent committed.
"The rally is so fast with so many crests and jumps that you really have to have good pace notes to make sure you have the right line and then be committed. The roads here have a harder base and are wider than most other rallies.
"This means we need a car that is a little more precise as we try and drive more racing lines. And then there are the jumps - and there are plenty of them. There is no real art to jumping, as with the suspension technology these days, 90 per cent of them are taken flat. The key is making sure the dampers are adjusted correctly to adsorb the impact and support the chassis on landing," he said.
Due to the highly competitive nature of the 2016 rally championship, it's quite possible any one of the top eight drivers could win.
Paddon's success to date has come from his single-minded approach to each event. Rather than chasing the idea of winning the world title, he and Kennard approach the season by focussing on each stage one at a time, then each individual rally, letting the championship take care of itself. So far it's worked out pretty well.
On gravel Paddon is as good as anyone else, but as in any form of motorsport, the weather, track, road position, and equipment are unknowns.
"We prepare leaving no stone unturned so it's just a matter of putting it all together on the day," he said.
The rally started on Thursday evening with a street stage in Jyvaskyla before yesterday's route through a series of forest challenges. Today the competitors head south for eight tests including two runs of the legendary Ouninpohja stage.
At the time of going to press Paddon and Kennard were ninth after the street stage.