Sebastien Ogier wrapped up his fourth world rally title weeks ago, but the battle for second and third has raged on, with Kiwi Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard right in the mix.

After a long, hard slog that started at Rallye Monte Carlo in January, the World Rally Championship has finally made it to Rally Australia at Coffs Harbour this weekend.

Paddon is fourth on the championship table, just three points behind Andreas Mikkelsen and a further 14 points back from teammate Thierry Neuville. It is eminently possible that Paddon could finish only his second season in the top tier of the WRC as the second best rally driver in the world.

The New Zealand pair has experienced just about every emotion possible in a single year. Two massive crashes, one of which involved a burning car, and throwing all caution to the wind in Argentina, to stand on the top spot of the podium, becoming the first Kiwis to do so in the 47-year history of the WRC.


As far as setting records goes, Kennard set a few of his own this year.

He's the oldest co-driver in the series and, with the win in Argentina, became the oldest co-driver to hold aloft a winner's trophy.

"It's been a hell of a season. It's been one of those seasons that, if you'd been offered it at the beginning, you would have gone 'Yeah, yeah, we'll take that', and then you get to the end and go, if only we did this or that," said Kennard.

"It's been a good year overall but patience isn't a word that Hayden knows how to spell. He's always in a hurry to be the best as quick as possible. Sure, we had two big crashes, but over the years things like that have allowed us to make the biggest leaps forward.

"You sometimes have to take a step back, which makes Hayden delve even deeper in to analysing what's going on and he gets better. If you can get Hayden to relax in the car, that's when he gets his best results. It's now about finding a balance between wanting to learn that last little bit to be where he wants to be, and being able to relax a bit.

"He knows now what he has to do, so the weekend should go well."

You'd think a bloke in his 50s would have had enough of being flung around inside a car like a ball bearing in a paint tin, but not this one. Kennard is keen, as long as he's required, to carry on. Getting the win, challenging the leaders on a regular basis and setting fastest stage times bodes well for a tilt at the world title over the next couple of years.

"I'll be on the start line at Monte Carlo, that's for sure. We both recognise that it'll get to the point at some stage where there needs to be a change. It's like the situation when you say 'When we win a championship round, I'll retire'. You then win one and start thinking how good it would be to win another one, and after a few wins, you start to think about a world championship.

"Maybe I'll hang around for that. With Volkswagen out of the picture and a number of drivers with new teams and cars, this means the pool of drivers able to win a championship has been reduced.

"We'll have a good push next year, but ultimately I think 2018 [to win a championship] is the goal for Hayden," said Kennard.

Rally Australia is Kennard and Paddon's surrogate home event and one the pair like as it has similarities to some parts of New Zealand. Last year, they won a stage and finished fifth overall and are looking to improve on that come tomorrow afternoon.

"We should do all right here as it's a lot like the roads at home. We're only three points off third so we'll push a bit this weekend. To get to second [in championship], we have to win and Thierry has to finish eighth or worse.

"Whatever scenarios people come up with, we'll just be going out here and doing our own thing. About 70 per cent of the rally is the same as last year so it'll suit Hayden very well," said Kennard.

Paddon himself is keen to end his season on a high, but will not be trying anything different in his approach. He'll maintain his normal mantra of not looking at either a rally result or the championship, rather putting together the best performance he can.

"It's certainly been a bit of a roller-coaster and despite some issues we made progress in all the rallies," said Paddon.

"We've been looking forward to this rally all year. We have a lot of fans who have made the trip from home. I grew up on roads like these so it'll be maximum attack. We've had good preparation, it's now just matter of putting it all together on the day."

WRC points
After 12 rounds.
1. Sebastien Ogier 247
2. Thierry Neuville 143
3. Andreas Mikkelsen 129
4. Hayden Paddon 126
5. Dani Sordo 119
6. Jari-Marti Latvala 110
7. Mads Ostberg 94
8. Ott Tanak 82