Of the two drivers, only Flodin could take the outright lead in P-WRC while Paddon would have to win and outscore Flodin to join Araujo on 83 points.
Flodin is no stranger to the lead of the Production series, he was there after his sensational season-opening victory in the Scandinavian snow on Rally Sweden, his home round of the series. Since then, the Subaru Impreza driver collected another maximum score in Jordan before retiring in Finland and finishing third on the asphalt in Germany.
Arriving in Sapporo, Flodin admits he will be glad to get back on the dirt. “It will be good to get on gravel again,” he said. “I have more experience of this surface and Germany was tough last time out. It’s going to be a big fight this time, even without [Armindo] Araujo; Toshi Arai is here and he knows how to drive in Japan!”
Arai is badly in need of a victory to get his own P-WRC title tilt back on track - but the Japanese is in the right place for a confidence-boosting event. He has won Production on his home round of the championship before, and won the Hokkaido Rally round of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (based further north in Obihiro) in convincing fashion earlier this year.
At the other end of the Rally Japan experience scale is Paddon. The double New Zealand Rally Champion has never been to this event before. The Pirelli Star Driver is driving his own Team Green Mitsubishi Lancer on Japan’s northernmost island this week, as the Sapporo-based event does not form part of his six-round programme in the FIA’s young driver development scheme.
What Paddon lacks in experience of the roads, he’s making up for in pace and confidence. Team Green has a 100 per cent win record in FIA events this season, having won P-WRC on Rally New Zealand before taking outright honours on the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship-qualifying International Rally of Whangarei later in the season. And his record in the Pirelli Lancer is pretty solid as well, with podium finishes on the last two rounds (third in Finland and second in Germany).
“I can’t wait to get to Japan,” he said. “Hopefully the stages will suit my driving style and we can have a good attack in there. It’s great to be back with Team Green - a repeat of the win in Auckland would be pretty awesome for me. But, I realise this is an event which a few of the guys have done before and will have more experience than me.”
Araujo rejoins the Production race on the next round, the Rallye de France in October.
"It’s going to be a big fight this time, even without [Armindo] Araujo; Toshi Arai is here and he knows how to drive in Japan!”