Stars aligned for Hayden Paddon to shine in Finland
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Kiwi rally driver Hayden Paddon will balance aggression with care not to over-do it on a huge opening day at Rally Finland tomorrow.
The 30-year-old heads into this week's WRC Finland -his favourite event on the calendar - on the back of his best result in the past 12 months and with some of the pressure from a disappointing season to date eased ever so slightly.
"I think you certainly go into events you enjoy and look forward to a little more relaxed and maybe not as anxious as you are at some other rallies," Paddon told The Herald.
"It helps with the preparation and hopefully the performance on the rally as well."
The New Zealander should be one of the drivers to beat on the fast, flowing and jump-laden gravel roads in Finland especially if he can have some luck on the weather front.
Paddon starts the opening leg seventh on the road courtesy of his championship position - that should be a big advantage if the roads remain dry. While rain is forecast for the event the Hyundai factory driver is optimistic it won't arrive until the weekend, allowing him to make some gains on the long opening day.
"Friday is the biggest day of the rally here and one of the biggest in the championship - we have 12 stages packed into one day so you have to be on it from the first stage," he said.
"That is the thing that stands out at Finland is that the gaps are always very small so if you do drop some time it is very hard to make that back.
"We will do our own rally but at the same time, given there is a little bit of pressure taken off us after Poland, we do want to push on more.
"I can see it a bit like home. The roads are really smooth and you don't have to look after the car like you do at some other events.
"It is about pushing and trying to find the limits.
"Unlike Poland the limit is a fine line here because at the edge of the road you have a lot of ditches and off-camber that can suck you in so you do have to be ultra-committed and keep your right foot down but at the same time you can't use too much of the roads."
There will be a little emotion in the Hyundai compound in the service park this weekend with this event originally being set down as John Kennard's finale. Paddon's long-time co-driver had to step away early however do to a lingering hip complaint and Paddon would love to honour Kennard with a big result.
This rally is the one event on the calendar that Paddon knows like no other and a victory wouldn't be beyond him.
"It is quite ironic that everything I have done in my career, even rallies back home, Finland is the one rally I have done the most.
"It feels very familiar coming back here - not just the stages but the area, the city and the service park too."
The stars could just be aligned for something special in the spiritual home of rallying.