SCOTT Pedder has taken his maiden stage win on an FIA World Rally Championship event and given himself the chance of a podium finish during “probably the best day of my entire rally career” at Vodafone Rally de Portugal.
Pedder and co-driver Dale Moscatt, the 2014 Australian Rally Champions, won the fifth of Saturday’s six scheduled stages, the 26.3 kilometre Marão, beating some of the sport’s hottest young talents in a packed and highly-competitive field.
The win, plus two second places, two fourths and a 15th lifted the Pedders crew and their Skoda Fabia R5 from 11th overall after Friday to fourth and just 10.2 sec. short of the podium. The result banished the disappointment of a rollover during Thursday Shakedown and a three-minute loss due to a puncture on Friday.
With four stages to run on Sunday’s final leg, Pedder’s battle for third will be with the incumbent Marius Aasen of Norway and Miguel Campos of Portugal, who is 7.0 sec. behind the Australian.
“Four stages to go tomorrow, the podium is well in sight, but I’m not getting ahead of myself. We have to still get through another tough day and we’ve got a quality driver in Miguel Campos breathing down our necks behind us.
“Today was probably the best day of my entire rally career! I had the confidence to push and push hard, so it felt great to be able to claim my first WRC2 stage win and show we can be ultra-competitive against the top guys in this sport.”
Pedder’s stage win was the first for an Australian in a main WRC category since Chris Atkinson won a Super Special Stage driving a Ford Focus RS in Mexico in 2012. In only the first of five scheduled 2016 rounds, Pedder already has equalled the best outright placing of his 2015 debut WRC2 season, which was achieved at Rally Finland.
It came as WRC2 leader Pontus Tidemand suffered a puncture, although the Australian had been turning in top times almost all day as he came to grips with his new Skoda and a return to WRC2 after eight months away.
A determined drive on Saturday’s opening stage saw Pedder set the fourth-fastest time against front-runners Teemu Suninen (Toyota factory test driver), Elfyn Evans (M-Sport factory driver) and Pontus Tidemand (Skoda factory driver).
“We actually had one eye on tyre conservation and another on maximum attack, which is a tricky balancing act,” he said after the opening test.
“We ran with a soft tyre front and rear and a hard tyre front and rear because we’re just a little worried about how the abrasive conditions are chewing through our stock of tyres for the weekend.”
Buoyed by the time on the first stage Pedder pushed even harder on the next test, but his hard work evaporated when the Skoda punctured a front-right three kilometres from the finish.
“These cars are so hard to drive on a puncture,” co-driver Moscatt said.
“Scott did exceptionally well to limp us through the rest of the stage and only lose a minute while trying not to destroy the car with the flailing rubber from the puncture.”
With the tyre replaced Pedder was back up to speed on the 37.67km Amarante stage, clocking the second-fastest WRC2 time and 10th overall.
All three morning stages were repeated in the afternoon and, feeling confident with his pre-event preparation, including refined pace notes, Pedder pulled out all the stops.
“Incredible, we pushed so hard, including through a massive patch of fog in the stage that went for maybe six to eight kilometres,” he said.
Moscatt was impressed: “For Scott to get in a brand new car, with a brand new team this weekend after eight months out of competitive rallying is remarkable in itself. But for him to take stage wins against the quality of the guys running this weekend is something else altogether.”
Confidence soaring, Pedder once again clocked an impressive stage time on the day’s final test, the repeated of the mammoth 37.67km Amarante, finishing second-fastest in WRC2 behind Tidemand.