New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon was the fastest driver through Saturday’s four special stages at WRC Rally Australia and goes into the final leg this morning holding fifth place.
The Kiwi performed strongly on Saturday and in spite of some tyre wear problems in the second run through the long Nambucca stage he climbed one position to fifth and finished the day 6.1secs closer to the rally lead than he’d been after Friday’s stages.
A quick analysis of the stage times shows that Paddon was Saturday’s fastest driver, even edging world champ Sebastien Ogier (Volkswagen) by 1.5secs at the same time as the Frenchman moved into the rally lead.
The thrilling nature of the battle on the Coffs Coast roads is shown by Saturday’s fastest drivers – Paddon, Ogier, Andreas Mikkelsen (VW), Kris Meeke (Citroen) and Ott Tanak (Ford) – being separated by exactly 5secs over the 117km of competition.
Kris Meeke in his Citroen during the WRC Rally Australia this weekend. Picture/ Greg Henderson Photography.
Paddon goes into the final day trailing leader Ogier by 19.4secs. At the front Ogier leads Meeke by just 0.3secs with Latvala 2.6secs back from the lead and Mikkelsen at 9.1secs.
Paddon is 10.3secs behind Mikkelsen while Estonian driver Tanak is 19.7secs behind the Kiwi.
Hayden Paddon during Saturday's action in the WRC Rally Australia. Picture/ Greg Henderson Photography.
Paddon said was pleased he made the most of the opportunity presented by running tenth on the road to set fastest time on the first two stages of the day.
``The morning went as good as it could have gone,’’ said Paddon.
``Everything was feeling normal with the car again (after a handling problem and differential change late on Friday) and that helped.
``We knew it was always going to be hard in the afternoon. The splits till about half way through the long stage probably exceeded my expectations a little bit but then we had the problem with the tyres.
``But all in all it was a pretty good day. I said at lunchtime I wanted to be within 15-20secs and we are - just.
``It could have been better but we are still reasonably close.’’
His plan for Sunday’s five stages is to continue the same attack.
``We’ll keep the same good speed up and keep the pressure on ahead and see what happens.
``You never know what might happen to those guys. We have to be there to pick up the pieces because they are going to be pushing hard to be on the podium.’’
Paddon is also the leading driver in the Hyundai Motorsport team and has built a lead of 44.5secs over Belgian team-mate Thierry Neuville who is currently in seventh position.
The first of Sunday’s five stages is the 21.95km Bucca Long stage which starts at 9.58am (NZ time).