PWRC preview: Local aces looking to steal Paddon’s thunder
Hayden Paddon might have raced to the top of the Production Car World Rally Championship standings with back-to-back victories in Portugal and Argentina, but the Subaru driver faces a new threat on the fourth round of the series in Finland.
Included on the entry are two local aces, Jarkko Nikara and Riku Tahko, who will both be determined to steal Paddon’s thunder and take crucial points away from the rapid Kiwi, who shares the title lead with Czech Martin Semerad.
Nikara, who like Paddon is a former Pirelli Star Driver, has taken over Anders Grondal’s registration for his home rally and is eligible for full PWRC points. Although his Mitsubishi Lancer is the older-generation Evolution IX version, the Finn has always shone on the Jyvaskyla-based event.
While Tahko is a relative unknown in world championship circles, the 26-year-old has previous Rally Finland experience and is a frontrunner in his hugely competitive domestic series. He has been handed one of two wildcard entries by the event organisers, which makes him a contender for points aboard his Lancer Evolution X.
New Zealander Paddon, meanwhile, can call on some previous event experience having taken a podium finish in the PWRC on last year’s Rally Finland. He says he wants to improve on the third place recorded in 2010.
“Of course we’ll be trying for more,” said Paddon following his test in Finland on Sunday. “It’s going to be very tough but it is good to come back to an event we have prior experience of. I made the mistake of being too conservative with the pace notes last year, so this year I know we can attack the roads and crests a lot more.”
A strong result in Finland will be vital for Semerad’s title bid. Having not nominated the next round in Australia as one of his scoring events, the Czech student will be anxious to leave Finland in touching distance of Paddon prior to the resumption of their battle on the penultimate round in Spain in late October.
Other drivers looking to make up lost ground in the title battle are Patrik Flodin and Michal Kosciuszko. Swede Flodin will be one of the favourites to win in Finland aboard his Subaru Impreza as he battles back from a disappointing start to his campaign. Kosciuszko is new to the PWRC for 2011 but the young Polish driver has yet to show his true pace in his Ralliart Italy-run Lancer, the team responsible for guiding Armindo Aruajo to the last two Production titles.
Peruvian champion Nicolas Fuchs, Russian Dmitry Tagirov and Ukrainians Veleriy Gorban and Yuriy Protasov will also be in contention for strong results in Finland.
Like Tahko, Mikko Pajunen has also earned a wildcard entry and will be a contender for honours in the FIA Production Cup for drivers of 2WD cars in his Renault Clio R3. However, he will face a strong challenge from British talent Harry Hunt, the current class leader, who starts the event rejuvenated following a test in Finland last weekend where he was able to finalise an optimum set-up for his Citroen DS3 R3.
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