PADDON READY TO FIGHT OGIER ON A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
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