Hayden Paddon rates last week's Vodafone Rally de Portugal as his most enjoyable round of the season so far, despite the misery of two mechanical-related retirements that wrecked his chance of victory.
The Kiwi driver began the rally desperate to turn around a disastrous start to the season which has left him languishing eighth in the title standings.
With British co-driver Sebastian Marshall alongside for the first time at a world championship event, the Hyundai ace got off to a strong start and took the lead by winning Friday’s opening stage.
But he lost top spot on the next test when an electrical problem cost him seven seconds. Worse was to come on SS7 when his car stopped for 11 minutes with the same intermittent issue.
Paddon returned on Saturday under Rally 2 but a steering rack failure in SS13 forced a second retirement. He was back again on Sunday and won two of the final four stages.
"Overall it was a good rally for us, obviously not what we wanted with the technical problems that we're continuing to have, but I'm happy that I've been able to get the fun side of it back again," Paddon told wrc.com.
"I've got more confidence in the car and the testing work from the last couple of weeks is paying off. I'm starting to feel at one with the car. When we had equal conditions to the others we saw we had the speed to be right at the front.
"It's the first time this year that I've started to feel good in the car. For sure I can still improve. but it's a big step in the right direction.
"Now we just need all the the ducks to line up, and a bit of luck of our side and then maybe we can actually start to deliver some results."
Paddon said the team's latest development test had transformed his feeling inside the Hyundai i20 Coupe.
"We focused on getting the set-up working right for my driving style by changing a lot of differential and suspension settings. It doesn't necessarily make the car any faster but it gives me the confidence to drive it the way I want to."
Paddon also paid tribute to Marshall who took the co-driver's seat earlier than planned when Paddon's long time navigator John Kennard was ruled out on medical grounds.
"With Seb everything was perfect in the car. He didn't put a foot wrong all weekend - it's like we have been together for years. It's looking good for the future," he said.