History-making Paddon holds second in WRC Sardinia
Having held the lead of Rally Italy Sardinia for 15 stages, the opening stage of Saturday afternoon’s itinerary saw New Zealanders Hayden Paddon and John Kennard slip to second place following a spin.
The history-making Kiwis managed to hold onto second place after the long day of competition despite an encounter with a rock, damage to their Hyundai i20 WRC’s gearbox and having to nurse it through the last two stages and back to the service park.
On Friday morning, Paddon and Kennard leapt into the lead of the notoriously tough Sardinian event and delivered a standout performance throughout that day to win three consecutive stages with a combination of sheer pace and an advantageous road position.
By late morning, they’d built a 25.3 second margin over a hard-chasing Jari-Matti Latvala and ended the day with an 8.8 second advantage over double world champion Sebastien Ogier who had moved into second place ahead of his team-mate.
At this point Paddon had already made New Zealand rally history, becoming the first Kiwi to hold the lead of a World Rally Championship event outside New Zealand. To hold the lead overnight with three stage wins added to Paddon’s achievements in world rallying.
Paddon said they started Saturday’s marathon – the longest day in this year’s WRC season with 212.83 competitive kilometres – with the same approach as the previous day.
Having lead the rally for 15 stages in total with a string of top three times in the morning’s five stages, Paddon said: “I was surprised that we were able to extend our lead of the rally by lunchtime. We thought that Seb might pass us on stages that he’s a bit familiar more with. The car felt good and we made the most of our starting position but we know the afternoon would be rougher. We’ll keep doing our own thing, try and stay out of trouble, try not to break the car, and what will be, will be.”
However luck wasn’t on the Kiwis’ side with a spin in stage 17 followed by the gearbox-breaking encounter with a rock.
Disappointed, Paddon said: “Obviously, we wanted to keep the pressure on Sebastien [Ogier] this afternoon and unfortunately we had a spin on the first stage which cost us the lead. The roads are quite rough so we made the decision to take it a little bit easier and look after the car. Unfortunately there was a big rock in the braking point for one corner and the compression broke the gearbox and meant we had to nurse the car through the last two stages. We were very, very lucky to get it this far. At the time I thought we wouldn’t actually get through, that it was the end of our rally.”
With an approach that’s been described by motorsport commentators as mature and confident, Paddon persevered. He and Kennard carried out roadside repairs to enable them to tackle the final 42 km Monte Lerno stage at a reduced speed, falling 2m 13.6s adrift of Ogier. They were at risk of losing second place to Mads Ostberg, but when Ostberg punctured, the Kiwis were able to maintain a margin of 1m 12s over Ostberg going into Sunday’s final four stages.
“Thankfully we made it through to hold onto second place with a buffer. To get here and still be in second place is still a dream result. It was a pretty challenging afternoon but nevertheless we didn’t give up and we kept working and we’re still here. Tomorrow [Sunday] we will look to secure the podium result, which would be an amazing result. It’s not over yet, so we have to keep focused on the job in hand.”
Paddon’s Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville is fighting hard in fourth place, while the third Hyundai i20 WRC run by Dani Sordo will again re-start after a fuel leak forced them out of Saturday’s action.
Team Principal Michel Nandan commented: “That was an intense day of rallying.
Ultimately, though, it was another positive one for our team as we have Hayden in second place and Thierry just off the podium positions in fourth place. We have faced a number of issues today but the biggest disappointment was Dani having to retire this morning. It is obviously frustrating given the pace that he has shown this weekend.
The drivers have given everything today, pushing all the way. Thierry took a stage win this morning and was competitive. He had a mechanical issue, which meant he was late for a stage this afternoon, losing a lot of time, but in the end that hasn’t affected his position. He has made up places and now sits fourth going into the final day. Hayden has had another great day and continues to impress everyone. He kept Ogier at bay until lunchtime and battled through gearbox mount problems this afternoon, keeping a level head to finish the day and secure a hard- earned second place.
Tomorrow, we have four more stages. We won’t become complacent and will do all we can to keep these positions.”