Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team guest driver Hayden Paddon finished his first event in a World Rally car in a very credible eight place on Rally de Espana last weekend.

Paddon started the final day of the Spanish mixed surface event in ninth place, having set the eighth-quickest stage times on five of Saturday's six tarmac stages and dropping back to ninth overall after a spin on Saturday's final super special stage.

With six stages and 138.54km of predominantly gravel roads to complete, the Kiwi knew had a long tough day ahead as he focused on his core goal of getting the car to the finish. The early morning gravel stages were made more challenging for all competitors with dust hanging in the still morning air and blinding low sunshine making visibility difficult.

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Paddon, as befits a competitive professional looking to make his mark, not only hoped to finish, but to finish well, but described the day as "trying".

"Moving to my favoured surface of gravel, I had high hopes to be competitive. However as we had never driven the car on gravel before it was going to be a tall task - a fact we found out on the first corner of the first stage," he said.

"The Ford Fiesta RS WRC is a fantastic car and really enjoyable. However in gravel spec today it felt different to anything I have driven before. The huge suspension travel meant the car was moving around a lot and I found it difficult to build any confidence and have a good feel for the car."

Paddon's stage times - varying from 11th to eighth-quickest - kept him comfortably in ninth overall, but he wasn't in a position to challenge experienced WRC campaigner Martin Prokop in a similar Fiesta running in front of him. The demise of Citroen's Dani Sordo allowed Paddon and others to move up the leader-board.

"During mid-day service we made many changes to the car to help me get more of a feeling," he continued. "These did improve things for the afternoon as we closed the gap to the front runners, although still the car felt very foreign. Other than losing the brakes on the last stage, it was a relatively clean day for us."

The 26-year-old is already reviewing his performance, keen to improve and be ready for any future opportunities in the World Rally Championship.

"Of course it is good to get to the finish as that was obviously one of our goals, but this rally has all been about progression, and we have learnt a lot from it," Paddon explained. "We improved on tarmac from 1.5 seconds per kilometre to 0.6 seconds per kilometre behind the stage winner and on gravel we improved from 2.6 seconds per kilometre to 1.1 seconds per kilometre. And we know exactly where the time lose is, which comes down to seat time and testing to overcome."

In terms of the future, Paddon added: "There is still a long way to go and we're currently unsure what the next step will be. We definitely want to be in a World Rally car next year - this experience has taught us that we need more seat time to be competitive, and we're sure we can be. Now we must continue to work hard, evaluate this event, learn and become stronger from it."

"Nevertheless it has been an amazing experience this weekend to be involved with M-Sport and we have enjoyed every minute of it," he concluded. "Our thanks for all the support we have had, especially from those at home - it has been humbling."