Hayden Paddon predicting closest ever WRC fight
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Kiwi driver Hayden Paddon is predicting the most competitive World Rally Championship in history as the season begins at Monte Carlo on Friday.
The factory Hyundai driver is sitting out the traditional season-opener as part of a horses for courses approach by the Korean manufacturer this year but will be keeping a close eye on the action.
Five-time reigning world champion Sebastien Ogier will start the championship as the favourite but Paddon expects the M-Sport Ford driver to be pushed harder than ever this year.
"It is certainly the most competitive world championship we have ever seen," the 30-year-old told The Herald. "I think every driver on every team is capable of winning rallies this year so you are talking 12 potential winners.
"As we saw last year it isn't necessarily about winning rallies but being consistent and that is what Seb has been the master of in the past.
"He certainly knows how to manage his speed and that is what we are all trying to use as a benchmark.
"If someone can match that consistency they will certainly challenge him in the championship."
Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville and Andreas Mikkelsen should be right at the pointy end of the championship battle while Toyota's Jari-Matti Latvala, Ott Tanak and Citroen star Kris Meeke should also be title contenders.
The season begins with arguably the toughest test of the year when drivers are greeted with treacherous winter conditions in the hills around the principality of Monaco.
"There is nothing worse being on sheet ice when you could potentially be on a slick tyre," Paddon said. "It is literally taking driving on ice to the extreme.
"Changeable conditions in one stage – you can go from bone dry tarmac to ice, to snow – all sorts of conditions and you almost never make the right tyre choice so it becomes a rally about compromise."
The action begins Friday morning with two night-time stages. Paddon's season begins at Rally Sweden next month.
Promising Kiwi driver David Holder will leave New Zealand this week as he begins preparation for his maiden appearance in the Junior World Rally Championship.
The 2016 New Zealand Rally Championship winner will spend some time in Poland early next week learning the car with his new team.
"It has definitely got pretty real," Holder said. "We will do a test with the team and we will also do a day of training and learn about how the program is going to run this year."
Having never competed on snow or ice before Holder will get some specialist training before his debut in Sweden early next month.
"We have put together a bit of a plan to try and get some experience before we get to the event," he said. "After this test with M-Sport I am going to head across to a snow school in Norway and have a day on a frozen lake with a tutor and get some basics done."