Hayden Paddon can't wait to get his wheels back on familiar roads in Rally New Zealand that starts in the Auckland area on Friday.
Paddon honed his driving skills on the fast, relatively smooth shingle roads of New Zealand and he is seeking a top placing this week to take the lead in the Super 2000 world rally championship, the one below the World Rally Championship.
"I've been looking forward to this rally since it was last run two years ago," said Paddon. "They are definitely the best roads in the world and to be driving this car [his Skoda Fabia] on these roads is going to be great."
Paddon says as well as winning the Super 2000 section this week he wants a top-10 finish in the rally overall which will mean finishing ahead of some of the world rally cars.
"It's going to be tough but if the preparation and the testing go well, and we're on roads we know reasonably well, there's no reason why we can get a top 10," he said.
He has driven all the stages on day one and two before so they will be familiar, but the day three stages haven't been used since the 1980s.
"The day two stages around Northland I know well. They're some of my favourite stages. They've been used for Rally New Zealand and Rally Whangarei so I've done them a few times."
One thing Paddon is hoping for is a little rain. He believes if the roads are wet it will enable him to get closer to the WRC cars.
"Our car's very similar to a world rally car. The main difference is that we are down a bit on power. That might hurt us a bit on the New Zealand roads, but if the conditions are wet it will remove some of that power advantage they have," Paddon said.
"Obviously we won't be able to compete with the front guys in the WRC, but the bottom part of the WRC we hope to challenge."
Paddon sits six points behind Irishman Craig Breen in the Super 2000 class, but has done only two rallies this year compared to three by Breen.
Breen had not intended to compete this week, but overnight a pall was cast over the teams in Rally NZ when it was announced that his regular co-driver, Gareth Roberts, of Wales, had been killed in an accident on the Targa Florio Rally in Sicily. Breen, who was driving the car, escaped injury.
Paddon's last rally was 2 1/2 months ago in Portugal so he was itching to get behind the wheel again yesterday for testing near Huntly.
"We had a test today so it was good to get back into the car after such a long break.
"It felt like quite a while since I was behind the wheel. We've got a few developments we are going to try this week and hopefully we can get the car dialled in and get the balance we are looking for," Paddon said.
Since he returned from Portugal in April, Paddon has secured three new sponsors for this year's campaign.
"We still have some more funding to find to get through the rest of the year," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News