New Zealand rally star Hayden Paddon has put a disappointing first four rounds of the World Rally Championship behind him as he prepares to defend his Rally Argentina title this week.
But while the 30-year-old Hyundai works driver is excited about the upcoming string of gravel rallies that he enjoys he is well aware he needs to improve his performance on his lesser-favoured events if he is to launch a title bid next year.
"The events we've done this year we weren't that competitive on last year either - Rally Sweden being the exception," Paddon told herald.co.nz.
"Certainly if you want to fight for a world championship you can't afford to have four bad rallies. You are never going to win a world title like that.
"The beginning of next year will have to go a lot better than this year."
Paddon failed to finish the season-opening Rally Monte Carlo before a string of mid-pack finishes in Sweden (7th), Mexico (5th) and Corsica (6th).
His struggles this year might be exaggerated by the fact he had a shocker in Monte Carlo going out of the rally on the opening stage, not to mention the mental anguish of being involved in an incident where a spectator was killed. He was therefore behind the eight-ball compared to rivals in Sweden, who had more time getting used to the new 2017-spec cars. Paddon was still playing catch-up in Mexico and then struggled to match the leading drivers on the Corsica asphalt.
"I think Monte Carlo is never going to be an easy rally for us," Paddon admitted. "Having one rally we are effectively giving away in the year is already enough.
"Sweden we know we can be competitive at. We just had some other circumstances that didn't help us this year. Mexico and Corsica are certainly events we can improve on from what we did this year."
Paddon is improving on tarmac but is still going to struggle to beat the best exponents on that surface. While he knows he needs to make further gains there he doesn't feel like he has to make huge changes.
"I don't think it is a matter of us trying to win tarmac rallies. If we can be up near the front and compete for top fives and podiums and just get a strong points haul on those tarmac events I think that is enough to help us for the championship if we are challenging to win the gravel rallies."
He will be much more at home on the gravel of Argentina this week as well as loose-surface events in Portugal, Italy (Sardinia), Poland and Finland in the coming months.