WRC Rally Australia: Paddon in eighth starting position
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A new network of special stages and a forecast for some rain awaits the WRC crews contesting Kennard’s Hire Rally Australia when the action begins this morning.
The first leg of the WRC season finale has a 9.30am (NZ time) start and the morning loop of stages to the north of Coffs Harbour comprises the Pilbara, Eastbank and Sherwood stages before a return to the Coffs Stadium Service Park at 1.04pm (NZ time).
The trio of stages is repeated during the afternoon and then crews have two evening runs at the oceanside Destination NSW super special stage to complete the first day of driving that totals 113.42km.
New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon says today’s new stages are a challenge and also an opportunity.
``The new stages are very fast, with lots of them in the trees,’’ he said.
``It will be a key day. But Saturday will be tough as well with road cleaning.’’
Under this year’s start order regime, a leading position after day one provides a position further back for day two - when the rally moves to longer stages to the south of the city, including the 49km Nambucca stage.
``You need to not be near the front (first on the road) in Nambucca, if you are, your rally will be finished,’’ said Paddon.
The opening day start order is decided by championship standings, placing 2017 champion Sebastien Ogier (Ford) at the head of the field for today’s stages followed by Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville and Ford driver Ott Tanak, who are still in a battle for runner-up honours in the championship.
Paddon heads into Friday’s stages as the eighth car in the start order, a position that should offer an advantage in dry conditions but would prove a difficult road position in the event of any significant rain as the clay base to the roads make them extremely slippery.
Along with Paddon, the other New Zealand driver in action at Coffs Harbour this weekend is Bay of Plenty’s Michael Young driving a Citroen DS3 R3T car with Hamilton co-driver Malcolm Read.
Young has achieved success in Asia Pacific events and Rally Australia will be his first start at WRC level. He will start 15th for the Friday stages.
There was to have been a second Kiwi crew competing in the Citroen’s prepared by Ron Cremen Rallysport but a shakedown accident earlier this week has seen the entry for Tony Gosling (Christchurch) and Blair Read (Auckland) withdrawn.
There’s also Kiwi interest in the performance of the latest Mazda2 AP4 car built by Andrew Hawkeswood’s Force Motorsport operation in Auckland.
Top Australian driver Brendan Reeves debuted the car with a victory at the NZ Championship round at Coromandel in August and is back behind the wheel for Rally Australia.