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Hay­den Pad­don says he will rel­ish the chance to take Se­bastien Ogier on a level play­ing field at this week’s Rally of Por­tu­gal.

Pad­don beat the reign­ing world cham­pion on a fi­nal-stage thriller last time out in Ar­gentina and says he has no fear of run­ning sec­ond on the road right be­hind the French­man.

Pad­don started the first two days of Rally Ar­gentina a favourable fifth on the road, with the four cars ahead sweep­ing loose gravel clear for his Hyundai i20 WRC. In Por­tu­gal, he and John Ken­nard will be right be­hind Ogier.

While the Kiwi’s ex­pe­ri­ence of sweep­ing stages is lim­ited at World Rally Cham­pi­onship level, he’s no stranger to the kind of knife-edge driv­ing re­quired on loose gravel from his time at home in the New Zealand Rally Cham­pi­onship.

Pad­don’s quick to point out that run­ning higher up the or­der is not all bad.

The Hyundai star said: “I re­ally en­joy be­ing first on the road. Yes you are sweep­ing the gravel, but at the same time you are con­trol­ling things and you get to drive to the line that you want to drive, rather than hav­ing that line dic­tated by who has gone and swept the road be­fore. I don’t have a prob­lem with be­ing fur­ther up on the road.

“It’s a chal­lenge, but it’s a good chal­lenge: if you’re there it means you’re do­ing some­thing right, it means you’ve scored a lot of points in the cham­pi­onship – that can’t be a bad thing!”

While there’s no fore­cast for sig­nif­i­cant rain, Pad­don said the weather can play its part.

He added: “If it does rain then we’ll have the ad­van­tage be­ing closer to the front – it’s the same if we get a lot of dust. OK, we’ll have Seb’s dust to deal with, but it’s not the ac­cu­mu­la­tion hang­ing you get if you’re fur­ther back [on the road].”

Pad­don and Ogier clashed over their dif­fer­ent opin­ions on the run­ning or­der reg­u­la­tion in Ar­gentina and the New Zealan­der says his stance isn’t about to change.

“Ob­vi­ously, I have a lot of re­spect for Se­bastien as a driver – he’s the ul­ti­mate bench­mark,” said Pad­don. “But he’s also a hu­man be­ing and we’re all the same: no bet­ter and no worse. I stand up for what I be­lieve in and I al­ways will, I’m not pre­pared to just fol­low if I don’t agree and feel strongly about some­thing.”

Pad­don added that the psy­cho­log­i­cal side of the sport was an im­por­tant part of the bat­tle.

He added: “I en­joy the mind games side of things, but that’s all put to one side when the hel­met comes on.”

Pad­don said his South Amer­i­can suc­cess didn’t raise ex­pec­ta­tions any higher within the Hyundai camp.

“The ob­jec­tive is to chal­lenge for the podium,” said Pad­don. “We still have some work to do. The short-term goal is to be as close to Se­bastien as pos­si­ble and is rea­son­able given the po­si­tion on the road. We’re look­ing to chal­lenge, this is the po­si­tion we want to be in.”

Pad­don wants to fight the cham­pion

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