New driver in hot seat after hip injury rules Kennard out of Portugal.

New Zealand World Rally Championship driver Hayden Paddon is contesting Rally Portugal this weekend with his new co-driver for the first time this year.

The long-serving John Kennard had to sit this one out due to a hip injury being aggravated during the last event in Argentina.

It had been announced earlier this year that Kennard would step back from active co-driver duties from Rally Germany onwards and Seb Marshall would take over for the rest of the year.

"The plan [to take over from Kennard] was always for Germany in August," Marshall said. "Hayden and John have always been quite clear that at some stage they would have to search for a new co-driver.


"They both had a clear idea of the attributes needed in a new co-driver and I seem to fit the bill, and perhaps it was also being in the right place at the right time.

"I first met them in 2010 when they were doing the Pirelli Star Driver and the year they won that prize I was doing the junior world championship.

"It was only since I started working with the Hyundai motorsport team that we really got to know each other better.

"I always got on really well with Hayden and John and it was when I jumped in for a test with Hayden in the middle of last year that things started to move forward with me potentially driving with Hayden full time."

The 27-year-old is no stranger to sharing the car with Paddon, having been involved in a number of tests and gravel races with the Kiwi in the past year.

Marshall was also part of the Hyundai Motorsport family having co-driven with Kevin Abbring in the European Championship and recently contested Rally San Remo alongside Paddon.

In what could bode well for the rest of the season, and especially so for 2018, is that the pair had a solid start to their partnership finishing second in Italy. Marshall slotted into his role alongside Paddon quickly under race conditions and the pair used their experience to stay with the rally leader.

The pair have prepared well for Rally Portugal and the early call up won't be too much of a worry for the Englishman.

"I've done a lot of testing with Hayden this year and of course we did San Remo recently so that's good really. If I added it all up I've probably had 15-odd days in the car with Hayden now.

"I feel for John not being able to race this weekend, but I'm delighted to be able to race with Hayden and now the real work starts.

"At the elite level drivers have a lot of different nuances and Hayden has a very different pace note system to that of Kevin's. From my point of view, I really enjoy the challenge of learning and finding new ways of note taking.

"You quickly get to know what preferences a driver likes his notes to be delivered, but in the end the longer the relationship the more intuitive it becomes.

"The idea this weekend is to have a good rally, stay out of trouble and build towards future events. We'll do the best we can of course, and hope for a good result," Marshall said.

Marshall and Paddon already appear to have a pretty good partnership and a solid base to build on for the rest of the year and beyond. It also helps that Kennard will be on hand at the rallies to pass on sage advice to help guide his replacement.

"Having a driver the calibre of Hayden, who is already a rally winner, and John being one of the best and most experienced co-drivers around has made the transition so much easier.

"I'm lucky we all get on well and have a lot of similarities. It's a nice environment to work in and it's a big vote of confidence that someone of John's status sees a lot of things in me that he has, which is quite humbling.

"They have been very successful and I hope I can help Hayden to continue to be so," Marshall said.

Portugal should be a good opportunity for the pair to grab a fist full of points as he tested there two months ago. They also recently tested in Sardinia to get a jump on settings.

This event is quite easy on tyres and he's on his favoured surface so a top three finish could be on the cards.

Neuville and Ostberg fastest as Kiwi chases

Thierry Neuville and Mads Ostberg yesterday recorded equal fastest times on the opening stage of Rally Portugal with Kiwi Hayden Paddon the next fastest.

Hyundai driver Paddon posted the third fastest time on the short 3.36km opening test to give him some confidence ahead of the first full day of action overnight.

The 30-year-old needs a big opening day if he wants to earn a good road position for the weekend and fight for a rally win.

He had earlier been happy with his car's performance in the pre-event shakedown.

Paddon will have every opportunity to fight for a win with the Hyundai World Rally Team employing a clear philosophy around team strategy.

Neuville is in the fight for the world championship while the team is clearly targeting a manufacturer's title.

But Paddon believes they'll allow him every opportunity to win.

"The team's main priority is the manufacturers' championship so basically as each rally develops, once they can see how the positions are looking, then maybe there will be instructions coming in to hold position or to push depending on how the three cars are going," Paddon said.

"That is a strategy that is looked upon as the rally progresses."

Elfyn Evans (DMACK Ford), Dani Sordo (Hyundai) and Sebastien Ogier (M-Sport Ford) completed the top six yesterday.

WRC points
1. Sebastien Ogier, 102
2. Jari-Matti Latvala, 86
3. Thierry Neuville, 84
4. Ott Tanak, 66
5. Dani Sordo, 51
6. Elfyn Evans, 42
7. Craig Breen, 33
8. Hayden Paddon, 33

- additional reporting Dale Budge