New Zealand's world rallying duo Hayden Paddon and John Kennard have a clear focus as they head to the famed Tour de Corse rally this weekend.
Paddon says they are focused on continually improving their performance on tarmac surface rallies. The 29 September to 2 October French World Rally Championship event marks the second of three consecutive European tarmac rallies at the tail end of the WRC season, so performance on this surface is a vital component of Paddon's current and future results.
"Obviously we want to be more competitive than Germany [where they finished fifth] and I think this rally suits us better, but the goals are not result driven," says Paddon. "It's about improvement and progress to be competing at the front in the future."
This is just the second time that Paddon and Kennard have contested the Corsican rally after it returned to the WRC calendar last year. The Kiwis secured a well-deserved fifth place on the rain-interrupted 2015 edition.
Paddon says it's a pleasure to drive the Corsican roads. "This is what I would call a more traditional tarmac rally with wider roads, twisty but flowing. The grip levels are often consistent and you can refer to more a circuit racing type of driving style."
This year, 70 per cent of the special stages are new and the total stage distance is 20 per cent longer. Despite still only having ten special stages - the fewest on the calendar - Tour de Corse is second only to Rally Mexico in terms of its total competitive distance at 390.92 km.
"Yes, a lot of the route is new but Corsica is Corsica. It's called the 'rally of 10,000 corners' for a reason as it's constant corner after corner and most look the same. That's why pace notes are more important than ever on this rally, something John and I work very hard on.
"It's certainly a unique itinerary, with less but longer stages. But that doesn't change our approach - we have to be on it from start to finish."
Long-time co-driver John Kennard adds: "The huge number of corners means the average speed is very low, just over 90 km/h, compared to 126 km/h in Finland. But it also means the info coming from the notes is quite relentless and the moments to breath when reading them are sometimes quite few."
Since Rallye Deutschland mid-August, Paddon's continued to work on his tarmac driving skills.
"With the long gap between Germany and Corsica, it's been a good chance to refresh a little, especially because the next five weeks are going to be crazy busy with four rallies and four tests. This downtime allowed us to investigate a bit what happened in Germany and work on some things to improve from that rally. We have also had some good test sessions with the team."
The rally officially gets underway with a start ceremony on Thursday evening on the west coast of the island before Friday's schedule covers 157 km of special stages - two stages tackled twice with the added challenge of teams not having a midday service. Saturday is the longest with two loops of two stages totalling 169.04 km. Sunday's final morning of action in the east comprises just two stages, but includes the longest of the entire rally, the 53.78 km Antisanti-Poggio di Nazza, which will prove decisive ahead of the 10.42 km rally-concluding power stage. Tyre wear on the rough and abrasive asphalt is a consideration while navigating tight, twisty mountain roads often bordered on one side by a rock face and the other a steep drop into the sea.
For Tour de Corse, Paddon and Kennard compete under the Hyundai Mobis World Rally Team banner in the #20 Hyundai NG i20 WRC, while team-mates Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo are in the #3 and #4 cars respectively competing for the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team. Paddon and Kennard are one of 12 WRC crews competing in the 10th round of this year's WRC season.
Paddon and Kennard hold equal third place on the drivers and co-drivers' championship points-tables respectively, matching their Hyundai Motorsport team-mates Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul.