This weekend's Rally Finland is arguably Kiwi driver Hayden Paddon's most important rally of the year as he looks to secure a World Rally Championship contract beyond this season.

The factory Hyundai driver is off-contract with the Korean manufacturer at season's end and is yet to open discussions with them or rival teams about next season. With a part-time drive this season the 31-year-old has limited chances to impress potential suitors and is a non-factor in the championship standings.

Finland will be Paddon's fourth WRC event of the season but it is the one that he has most experience on, where his driving style is most suited and his best chance to earn a top result. It also comes at the time of year as teams start to begin discussions with drivers for next season.

Paddon is trying to approach the rally like any other however and his goals are simply to out-perform his Hyundai teammates.


"I think all seven rallies are of equal importance – especially from a team perspective," he told The Herald. "The job we are expected to do is no different.

"In saying that we have good opportunity this weekend to get a good result and perform well against our teammates and all those performances added together will help us with our future.

"First and foremost is to try and be ahead of Thierry [Neuville] and Andreas [Mikkelsen]. We have a good chance of that. We have a good road position on [leg one].

"It is a rally I enjoy. We have gone well reasonably here in the past but we haven't quite put together a result but I am comfortable here and I enjoy the nature of the stages.

"We would love to be fighting for a podium but we also know that this is one of the closest-fought rallies of the year. It is not only about being fast but you have to be consistent – you have tenths of a second separating stage times at every stage you see so we need to be there or thereabouts on every single stage."

Paddon has enjoyed a bounce back year after a shocking 2017. He has won all three NZRC events back home and leads the championship by a healthy margin. On top of that he banked solid points finishes in two of the three WRC events he has contested so far but crashed out of Rally Portugal while leading the event.

He contested a rally in Estonia a fortnight ago to try and prepare for Finland and came out of that with a second place finish to Toyota driver Ott Tanak and with plenty of confidence.

"I feel pretty good," he said. "I have felt good all year to be honest. The results probably don't quite reflect that but when you spend a bit of time out of the car it has been a little bit difficult.


"Estonia felt good – we used it as a test session and it is the best I have felt in this car for 18 months. A few changes were made and that is something we have been chasing for a long time so it is good to now have that feeling and hopefully that will translate into results."

Finland's roads are notoriously fast with plenty of jumps that require full-on commitment. Paddon will line up here for the ninth time and that experience will be invaluable.

"We have done it so often I feel comfortable. You have to be very committed but also take the right lines and get the jumps over the corners and bits and pieces.

"You need that experience to be competitive here.

"I have never done a single rally in the world, including New Zealand, nine times before so we have oodles of experience."