New Zealand's Hayden Paddon is confident he can overcome recent car trouble and inexperience on tarmac to keep his Super 2000 world rally championship campaign on track at Rally France this weekend.
Having led the championship earlier in the year following wins in Portugal and New Zealand, the Geraldine driver's Skoda Fabia suffered unrelated problems at Rally Finland and Rally Wales GB which has seen him drop to second equal.
Sweden's Per-Gunnar Andersson has 76 championship points with Paddon and Ireland's Craig Breen eight points adrift, but there are still plenty of points on offer, with 25 for the winner this week in the Alsace region and at the season-ending Rally Spain next month.
Paddon, the 2011 production class world champion, is viewing France as something of a ''fresh start'', having worked closely and tirelessly with his Austrian-based team, BRR, to rectify the recent mechanical, electrical and gearbox issues.
"I would be lying if I said that the results hadn't taken a bit of a toll mentally, but it is a matter of putting them behind us and focusing on a new challenge,'' he said.
''The previous two events have been more a case of a couple of really unfortunate failures, in all other respects the car is really good."
France is the first all-tarmac rally of the year, as opposed to snow or gravel, and Paddon and his co-driver, John Kennard from Blenheim, have been busy testing on a selection of Austrian roads. They have only done three all-tarmac rallies, which makes them inexperienced compared with Andersson and Breen.
"The Skoda felt amazing on tarmac, almost like a go-kart,'' Paddon said.
''I was able to get to grips with it very quickly in tricky wet conditions, and the team management were really happy with our speed. I did learn that I can be more aggressive with the car and particularly try and stay in the higher revs more.
''I'm hoping for a dry rally, as the roads are generally quite fast.''Paddon said he would ''take the fight'' to Andersson and Breen despite his lack of tarmac experience.
The rally starts tonight (NZT) and finishes on Monday morning.
- © Fairfax NZ News