The New Zealand rally driver Haydon Paddon and British co-driver Sebastian Marshall tackle their first World Rally Championship event together in this weekend's Portugese Rally.
Marshall was scheduled to take over from Paddon's long-time co-driver John Kennard at Rally Finland in July, but Kennard is sitting out for Portugal on medical advice due to a hip injury.
Paddon, who is 8th in the championship after 5 rounds.
Twenty-seven-year-old Marshall is excited by the opportunity: "It's an earlier than planned debut but something that I'm hugely excited about and motivated to do our best. Hayden and I have been working together for quite a while now so I feel well prepared to jump in and take on the challenge of Rally de Portugal. Of course, my best wishes to John too… I know how hard it can be to sit out an event due to doctor's orders!"
This will be Paddon's sixth time contesting the classic gravel-surface rally, which is based near Porto, in the north of Portugal. "I have always enjoyed Portugal," Paddon says. "We have many good memories from PWRC and SWRC there and the country is hugely passionate about rallying. My engineer Rui is also Portuguese so I know the rally has special meaning to him."
In terms of on-road preparation, Paddon says: "We tested last in Portugal two months ago. We also recently tested for two days in Sardinia which was about confirming settings for both Portugal and the next event in Sardinia. We have found some small things that are helping me to find the feeling with the car, but we have to wait and see how that translates on the rally."
Running eighth on the road for Friday's opening leg, Paddon says: "The roads are generally quite sandy based, but after Argentina the stages will seem very smooth. Some small ruts and holes appear on the second pass but nothing too dramatic. Portugal is generally quite easy on tyres which helps to make tyre choice easier. Maybe in the afternoon loops we may consider the hards but this will depend on the weather."
Marshall adds: "Rally Portugal is an event I've only started twice but have been at for the past seven years so I know the workings of it very well. The large number of passionate fans make for an exciting atmosphere on the stages, and contribute to it being an enjoyable event for a co-driver.
The 2017 edition of Rally de Portugal marks the gravel-surface rally's 50th anniversary with WRC competitors Toyota and Citroën running each running four crews for the first time, while Hyundai fields the three driver/co-driver combinations Paddon/Marshall, Neuville/Gilsoul and Sordo/Marti.