Kiwi driver improves his times to keep in touch with Rally Finland leaders after thunderstorm setback

World Rally Championship pair Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard had a steady opening gambit at their third WRC event, the Neste Oil Rally Finland.

Paddon in his works Hyundai i20 WRC car was 10th after the opening day of the rally just over a minute behind leader Jari-Matti Latvala.

Starting 13th on the road in atrocious wet conditions, the Kiwi pair did well to keep the car on the gravel and stay in touch with the leaders. This is Paddon's fifth visit to Rally Finland and while he and Kennard may be familiar with some of the roads, the heavy rain combined with thunder and lightning made pushing hard dangerous.

"Our road position along with the sudden rain storm didn't help matters and we lost a bit of time in the first stage," said Paddon.

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"But the second and third stages, when the weather cleared up, were an improvement and we're a lot closer to our teammates on times, which is where we want to be."

Knocking 20 seconds off their time on the second run through the 23km Lankamaa stage put the Kiwis ninth fastest for the stage, just behind Hyundai Motorsport teammates Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul, and Juho Hanninen and Tomi Tuominen.

"Of course we can keep improving and there are stages coming that will suit us better. We're back on roads we know so we're really looking forward to that.

"The first stages we hadn't done before and nor had anyone else, but from now on there are only a couple of stages we wouldn't have been on before. Some of them we might have done in a different configuration, or in reverse, but at the end of the day a Finnish stage is a Finnish stage.

"Also, once you get to know the character of the road you can get pretty comfortable here," said Paddon.

The pair missed the opening five rounds of the championship, having started their campaign with Rally Italia Sardegna, and Finland is their third tilt at racing in the top category.

The former Production World Rally Champion says the goal this year is to learn and develop the car, adapt to competing at the elite level of rallying and earn the team manufacturers' points.

"We've got a few more development parts in the car this weekend and the car feels really good and we're moving in the right direction. It's all baby steps at the moment to make sure we finish each race.

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"Obviously though we want to keep improving our times but not go silly. We want to stay within our comfort zone but at good pace. We definitely don't want to be taking any stupid risks, though," said Paddon.

The Kiwi pair are known for their meticulous pace notes and will be pushing as hard as the notes deem fit.

Paddon is also looking to carry more corner speed during the rest of the rally and keep his lines clean and smooth. The Finnish roads reward commitment with precision and the Kiwis reckon they'll be able to improve their times over the remaining stages.

"We'll just have to make sure we commit to the pace notes as they are the biggest thing in helping to get better stage times. We're also feeling a lot more comfortable and confident this weekend than we did in the past two rallies.

"It's probably a mixture of a few things, chief among them being on a rally we know, having spent more time in the car and gelling with the team more - a combination of everything, I suppose, and it bodes quite well for the rally," said Paddon.

WRC

Points after seven rounds:
1. Sebastien Ogier 166
2. Jari-Matti Latvala 116
3. Andreas Mikkelsen 83
4. Mads Ostberg 66
5. Mikko Hirvonen 52
6. Thierry Neuville 46
7. Kris Meeke 38
18. Hayden Paddon 4