Rally Australia is as close as it gets to a home event for Paddon. The New Zealander has spent this season and much of 2010 flying back and forth to Europe from his home in New Zealand’s South Island to show off his potential but faces a much shorter trip to New South Wales, where he will start with a 25-point lead following a trio of impressive wins alongside co-driver John Kennard.
With close rivals Patrik Flodin and Martin Semerad not nominating the Coffs Coast-based event as one of their six-scoring rounds, a strong result for Paddon this weekend could hand the Symtech Racing Subaru Impreza driver the FIA Production World Rally Championship title with two events remaining.
Of his rivals in action on the gravel event this week, Michal Kosciuszko has yet to hit the form that carried him to success in the Junior and Super 2000 world championships earlier in his career but will nevertheless be a contender in his Lotos Dynamic World Rally Team Mitsubishi Lancer.
The Pole moved into 10th position in the standings with his best finish of the season so far when he came fifth in Finland in late July.
Brendan Reeves, one of Australia’s most promising young drivers, makes the step up from the WRC Academy for a one-off PWRC appearance. The Victoria driver has taken over Anders Grondal’s registration and could be an outside bet for victory alongside his co-driving sister Rhianon Smyth after a late scramble to secure a car.
Young stars Majed Al Shamsi and Bader Al Jabri represent Team Abu Dhabi in a brace of Imprezas following their promotion from the Fiesta SportTrophy International for this season. They are sampling four-wheel-drive machinery for the first time in 2010 and will continue their acclimatisation in Australia, where they will call on the support of project mentor, the Ford Fiesta RS WRC driver Khalid Al Qassimi.
Ukrainians Oleksandr Saliuk and Pavel Cherepin are back in action following their hefty crash on Rally Finland, which left co-driver Cherepin requiring hospital treatment for concussion. They are joined in the Mentos Ascania Racing Mitsubishi attack by early season frontrunner Valeriy Gorban and fellow Ukrainian Aleksey Kikireshko.
Italian veteran Gianluca Linari has a reputation for being a dependable performer in his Impreza, as does Mitsubishi-driving Finn Jukka Ketomaki, currently a strong fourth in the standings.
Briton Harry Hunt, a member of his national motorsport federation’s prestigious driver training programme, is the sole representative in the FIA Production Cup for drivers of 2WD cars.
Two local wildcard entrants, nominated by the rally organisers to chase PWRC points, complete the line-up in Coffs Harbour. Nathan Quinn drives a Mitsubishi while Leigh Gotch will turn out in a Subaru. Both will be aiming to capitalise on their local knowledge as they bid to make an impression on the category regulars.