Paddon’s podium push at Finnish Grand Prix

Hayden Paddon has earmarked a podium finish in WRC2 at this weekend’s Rally Finland, a task that will prove tougher than anything he’s faced in the past six years.

Back in Europe for his WRC encore and now recovered from COVID-19, Paddon enters the ‘Finnish Grand Prix’ armed with a Hyundai i20 Rally2 that is a lot more sorted, and with his confidence returning.

A 50km test session last weekend has helped the Kiwi fine-tune his new car for the fast and flowing Finnish stages after a lacklustre return in Latvia and Estonia.

“With Estonia being cut short, we are lacking some mileage with the new car at present and things haven’t gone exactly to plan,” Paddon said.

“We introduced a small test prior to Finland to try and learn more about the car and continue our development. With a short and constructive 50km of testing, it was really good to experiment and try some new set-ups.

“By the end of the day I felt a lot more comfortable behind the wheel. The plan is to take this confidence into the weekend and see how the car performs in rally conditions, but we are certainly tracking in a good direction.”

Paddon has made it quite clear that he’s aiming for a podium finish, but is also well aware that a result that good probably won’t happen on speed alone.

On day one he hopes to slot somewhere into the top five, and then see how the rally progresses.

“We’d love to target a WRC2 podium here, but we’re under no illusions how difficult that will be. Not only are we still working on the feeling with the car, but the local competitors are very fast. We’re aiming for a consistent pace throughout the weekend to try and challenge the locals.”

Indeed, the locals will be blisteringly fast, and the WRC2 field is arguably even more competitive than the Rally1 fight for outright victory will be.

Those seeded ahead of Paddon read like a ‘who’s who’ of Finnish rallying at present. Emil Lindholm, Teemu Suninen, Teemu Asunmaa, Mikko Heikkila, and the quick Estonian, Egon Kaur.

Egon Kaur finished 12th in the WRC2 category at Rally Estonia 2022

Then there’s Paddon, 18th on the road, followed by Russian ace Nikolay Gryazin, Junior World Champion Sami Pajari, and fellow Finn Eerik Pietarinen, and the list goes on and on.

In reality, a top seven finish would be a commendable result, let alone a podium.

Still, this is a rally that Paddon enjoys immensely and one that he’s had some success at in the past, finishing fifth outright on his last visit there in 2016.

“It’s always been one of my favourite European events – fast, flowing roads and the jumps, pretty much a gravel rollercoaster! When you get it right, it’s an amazing sensation.”

Another bonus will be that he feels at home with his own team, and mates, working alongside him.

“Having our own team from New Zealand here together in Europe has been comforting and enjoyable,” he added.

“Everyone’s been working really hard even within the constraints of our very tight budget. The main thing is we are all on the same page and, despite the disappointment of Estonia, we’re all upbeat and focused to make amends in Finland.”

Paddon has openly admitted this week that he’s unlikely to ever land a top-line seat in the WRC again, but that won’t stop him from trying.

Within the sport he is still extremely highly regarded, and with a good result in Finland, who knows what opportunities might arise in the future.

For now, all the 35-year old can do is keep putting his best foot forward and showing the world that he still has what it takes to compete at the highest level – something those of us down under already know!

Peter has been the editor of RallySport Magazine since its inception in 1989, in both printed and online form. He is a long-time competitor, event organiser and official, as well as working in the media.

http://rallysportmag.com

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