Kiwi driver says it’s surreal to be taking on best in world rallying

Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard have arrived in Finland for round eight of the World Rally Championship, their third event as works drivers for Hyundai Motorsport.

Since joining the main game the Kiwis have been at a slight disadvantage, having not competed on the roads of the previous two rallies.

This is about to change in Finland. Paddon has competed there five times, more than for any other event overseas.

The roads are reminiscent of those on which he cut his teeth in New Zealand with fast, open sections and adrenaline-pounding jumps on the smooth gravel roads of the Jyvaskyla region's forests and lakes. Kennard will also be comfortable in the Scandinavian countryside - he has a summer house in the area.

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Since the last round in Poland, Paddon has had a chance to get that little bit more performance out of his i20 WRC car.

"We've had a good test for this event and have really have focused on the suspension," he said. "The rest is about developing my driving style. It will be nice to also be back in an event I know well and I hope that will help us."

Sticklers for ever improving their pace notes, the pair have been tweaking the information garnered over the past five years. This is to ensure not only that they have a good base to work from but to include any new twists since they were last there.

"There are a few stages that are new to us, but generally speaking a Finland stage is a Finland stage - they all have similar characteristics.

"You have to love the jumps and blind crests to do well here, and I also enjoy the fast nature of the stages - they suit me down to the ground."

Paddon is keen to continue with his learning curve at the elite level of rallying and is measuring his progress in seconds per kilometre compared with the other drivers in the top category. Primarily, the key is to gain manufacturers' points and hope for a few drivers' points, while developing as a driver.

"It's amazing and surreal to be in a WRC car competing at the top of world rallying, but furthermore it's great to be part of this project with Hyundai Motorsport in their first season in the sport and seeing the progress and development of the car every time you drive it."

Paddon and Kennard are also helping to mentor fellow Kiwi Malcolm Reed.

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"Malcolm will assist with our gravel notes and John has already taken Malcolm under his wing to start passing on his wealth of knowledge as a WRC co-driver," Paddon said.

Based north of capital Helsinki, this year's rally starts tomorrow and ends on Sunday.

There are 26 stages and 361km of competitive stages beginning Thursday evening with a short, sharp leg.

Friday's route is the longest with the last of its nine stages not starting until 8.30pm, still in daylight.

Saturday includes big jumps over some of Finland's most well-known stages.

Sunday's short loop features two passes over the classic Ruuhimaki test, one of which will be the power stage.