Kiwis Paddon and Kennard lead Hyundai team in Sweden
New Zealand's most successful rallying pair to date, Hayden Paddon and John Kennard, are going about their business this weekend at Rally Sweden.
The duo have almost doubled the amount of World Rally Championship rounds for 2015, having been nominated for 12 of the 13 race weekends.
The Hyundai i20 WRC pilots were given another accolade by the Korean manufacturer by being promoted to the number one Hyundai Mobis World Rally Team (car #8) after Dani Sordo broke two ribs in a mountain bike accident. The team's test driver Kevin Abbring will now drive Paddon's usual car.
"We got the number one car by default really and now we've got a job to do," said Paddon from Sweden. "It does put a little more pressure on us, as the most important thing for the team is the manufacturer's points."
Paddon and Kennard have been to Rally Sweden before, back in 2012. What makes this event rather tricky is that it's the only full-snow rally on the calendar. Teams will be using narrow tyres with up to 300 metal studs per tyre, which in the right circumstances can provide more grip than when the cars are gravel.
"It's been a while since we were here and I think we have pace notes for about half the stages. We have spent the last three weeks bringing them up to scratch and updating them," said Paddon.
"A lot depends on what the roads are like on the day. They could be narrow with high snow banks ... a lot depends on the amount of snow and where the snow ploughs have gone."
Individual drivers like to have cars set up to their own driving styles. When Paddon first joined the team in 2014 he and Kennard based their set-up around Sordo's as a benchmark.
As the season progressed Paddon and his engineers and mechanics became more confident in their understanding of the car and set it up specific to the Kiwi's driving style. Having to now jump into someone else's car may warrant a bit of tweaking but Paddon has no qualms with flinging Sordo's car around the Swedish forest roads.
"The cars are all very similar but there are some parts we can't change on the car so we have to settle with Dani's. The rules and regulations mean some components are linked for certain events.
"Some parts on Dani's car are linked for future events so have to remain. We're only talking about small things and we've been able to change about 75 per cent of the set-up to the way we like it.
"For an event like this where the conditions change so much it's not really an issue," said Paddon.
The pair had a test in the i20 WRC on Wednesday to get some good seat time, get a feel for the level of grip on the roads and what driving style will get the most out of the car.
"The car felt good in testing today and everything felt natural, so we're keen to get going. This year we're doing double the amount of rallies as last year so we're going to have lots of seat time. We'll build on last year, and need to string together good stage times, put it all together and get good overall results," he said.
The rally started on Thursday night [Swedish time] with a super special and headed across the border into Norway yesterday.
The rally may cover a long 1440 kilometres in total but drivers only have to negotiate 308 kilometres of competitive stages.
Today's eight stages include the challenging Colin's Crest in Vargasen, where an award is made for the longest jump. Ken Block and Marius Aasen share the record with a recorded jump of 37 metres.
Sunday has just three tests, including the rally-closing Power Stage in Varmullsasen, before the Karlstad finish.
The temperature may only be just below freezing at the time of going to press, but temperatures as low as -25C would definitely make changing a wheel a challenge.