By Colin Smith
New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon has set the pace through the morning stages of WRC Rally Australia.
Paddon won the opening 50.8km Nambucca stage by 4.6secs from Volkswagen’s Andreas Mikkelsen and followed up with another narrow stage win on the 7.98km Valla stage before returning to the lunch time service break at Coffs Harbour.
Paddon’s pace in his Hyundai i20 has powered him back into a fierce battle among the rally leaders.
He has moved up from sixth to fifth overall but the 25.5secs deficit to the rally leader overnight has now been slashed to 9.5secs.
Northern Ireland’s Kris Meeke (Citroen) has returned to the rally lead after the morning stages and holds an advantage of 2.3secs over overnight leader Jari-Matti Latvala (Volkswagen).
A further 1.6secs back Sebastien Ogier (VW) is third with a 1.3secs margin to Mikkelsen and then 4.1secs to Paddon completing the top five.
``We’re back in the hunt again,’’ said Paddon before the service halt.
``There’s still a long way to go in this rally but the feeling is better this morning and I could drive the car a bit more how I like to.’’
The handling issue which slowed Paddon in the last three Friday stages was traced to a differential problem.
``We replaced the diff and changed a few set-up things as well and it’s a big improvement.
``The diff was opening up too much. Something was broken inside but we were able to see it in the data and just replace it last night and it’s back to normal again.’’
Paddon says his plan for the afternoon stages – a repeat run through the long Nambucca stage and an after-dark sprint through Valla – is to stay in touch with the leaders.
``The Volkswagen boys are going to be very fast through the repeat runs so we are going to have to push harder. If we can stay within 10 or 15 seconds or so that will be great.’’
The second run through Nambucca starts at 5.41pm (NZ time) and the Valla night stage is at 8.10pm.