PHOTO: Hyundai’s Hayden Paddon kept fans spellbound with the defence of his lead on Saturday (Hyundai pic)
SÉBASTIEN Ogier headed Rally Italia Sardegna following a car-breaking Saturday that ended in heartbreak for long-time leader Hayden Paddon of New Zealand.
Ogier completed the WRC’s longest day since 2002 with a 2min 13.6sec advantage in his Volkswagen Polo R over Paddon, who had his lead wiped out after a spin and fell back further after hitting a rock.
The duo was neck and neck through the morning’s 110km of rough road special stages east of Alghero. Paddon enjoyed better road conditions in his Hyundai i20 and extended his 8.8sec overnight lead by half a second.
But when the Kiwi spun and stalled his engine in a hairpin on the afternoon’s second stage, the Frenchman took the lead and extended it when Paddon struck a rock in the next test.
“Two fantastic days for me,” said Ogier, who is the only top-line driver not to encounter problems.
“I never said leading was impossible, but I knew my chances were small. A lot of things happened today and it was very rough this afternoon.”
Paddon patched up his car and dropped 1min 45sec limping through the final 42km Monte Lerno stage to retain second from Mads Østberg by 1min 12.0sec.
“I don’t want to be a drama queen, but when it happened it ripped my heart out,” said Paddon, chasing a maiden WRC win.
“We hit a big rock on the driving line and I thought there was no way we could go on, but we strapped it up as best we could.”
Østberg won two stages in Citroen’s DS3 but two slow punctures cost 90sec.
He was 31.4sec clear of Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai i20, the Belgian surviving a power steering problem which cost a 40sec penalty as he repaired it.
Elfyn Evans had a better day in his Ford Fiesta RS to hold fifth with Jari-Matti Latvala sixth in another Polo R after winning three stages. However, he dropped two minutes changing a tyre after knocking it off the rim in a heavy landing and five minutes after hitting a rock and breaking the suspension.
The leaderboard was completed by WRC 2 quartet Yurii Protasov, Paolo Andreucci, Jan Kopecky and Yazeed Al Rajhi.
Ott Tanak retired from third with his Fiesta RS stuck in sixth gear, Andreas Mikkelsen ripped a wheel from his Polo R and Dani Sordo stopped with low fuel pressure.
Robert Kubica went out with gearbox problems, Martin Prokop exited with low oil pressure and Lorenzo Bertelli had a recurrence of Friday’s oil leak.
Sunday’s final leg is the shortest of the rally. It comprises two identical loops of two stages north of Alghero covering 45.80km. The final Cala Flumini test comprises the live TV Power Stage with bonus points for the fastest three drivers.