HAYDEN Paddon is on course to become the first New Zealand driver to win a WRC round, after being handed the lead on YPF Rally Argentinawhen Jari-Natti Latvala crashed into retirement.
Paddon and co-driver John Kennard ended the Saturday leg of the four-day event in their Hyundai i20 WRC with a 29.8sec advantage over championship leader Sébastien Ogier. Less than 60km of gravel speed tests remain before the finish in Villa Carlos Paz tomorrow.
Latvala seemed to have withstood a determined charge from Paddon to enter the fifth of six scheduled special stages on Saturday with a 14.5sec advantage in his Volkswagen Polo R. The Finn was almost seven seconds quicker midway through when he crashed heavily and retired.
He said later a right-front suspension damper mount had broken and he hadn’t been able to steer the car, which hit a bank and rolled.
Paddon started the day in third and slashed Latvala’s lead to 6.7sec after winning the first two stages in his Hyundai i20, before Latvala responded with two wins of his own to open the biggest margin of the weekend.
“To finish the day leading the rally is unexpected but it certainly changes things for the final day,” Paddon said.
“There’s still a long way to go with very tough stages. We have to stay calm because a 30sec lead over a world champion isn’t a whole lot.”
Road-opener Ogier became frustrated at sweeping the surface gravel in his Polo R. Less than eight seconds off the lead on Friday night, he fell back in the drying conditions as temperatures touched 25˚C and was more than 45sec adrift of Latvala before the face of the event changed.
Andreas Mikkelsen’s cautious approach paid off as the Norwegian climbed to third in another Polo R, 14.5sec behind Ogier and 17.7sec clear of Spain’s Dani Sordo in a Hyundai. M-Sport Ford driver Mads Østberg was a distant fifth while Argentina’s Marcos Ligato climbed from ninth to sixth on his debut in a Citroen DS 3.
Sunday’s final leg is based in one of the WRC’s iconic locations, three stages on the rock-strewn roads of the Traslasierra mountains sure to provide a tough test. Two passes of El Condor-Copina sandwich the longer Mina Clavero-Giulio Cesare, with bonus points to the fastest three drivers in the final live TV Power Stage.