BANISHING a problematic start to his World Rally Championship season, Hayden Paddon grabbed an 8.2 second lead on Rally Italia Sardegna after a gruelling drive through high temperatures and over rocky roads on Friday.
Four different drivers led this seventh round – the halfway point in the WRC season – before Paddon secured top spot . He overcame a broken damper in his Hyundai i20 Coupe to head a tightly-clustered pack of four pursuers.
The Mediterranean island’s roads were covered in slippery gravel and Paddon targeted an error-free day to earn a prime start position on clean tracks for Saturday’s longest leg.
“It’s been a difficult afternoon. Things weren’t right with a small problem on the car. The main target was to get a good road position for tomorrow and that’s mission accomplished. I love tomorrow’s stages, they suit me and they suit the car,” Paddon said.
Teammate Thierry Neuville was second. The Belgian gradually climbed the leaderboard, despite facing the worst of the slippery conditions. An overshoot and two punctures, which he survived despite carrying only one spare wheel, cost time.
Ott Tänak was 1.3sec behind in a Ford Fiesta, the Estonian’s only issues being a heavy landing and a half-spin. He was 0.3sec ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala, who also fared well from a difficult start position in his Toyota Yaris.
Mads Østberg was third for much of the day in a Fiesta. The Norwegian’s gamble of mixing soft and hard compound Michelin tyres didn’t pay off in temperatures that topped 30°C and he dropped to fifth.
Juho Hänninen led briefly and was second until hitting a bank in the final stage, forcing him back to sixth. The impact cracked a radiator pipe and he had an anxious journey to the overnight halt in Alghero with water leaking from the engine of his Yaris.
Sébastien Ogier battled an unfavourable road position in his Fiesta, due to his status as championship leader, and finished the day seventh. Citroën new recruit Andreas Mikkelsen drove the only surviving C3 WRC into ninth spot.
There were several high-profile victims. Kris Meeke rolled his C3 out of the lead, teammate Craig Breen stopped with an oil leak in his gearbox and Elfyn Evans retired after crashing his Ford Fiesta. Turbo problems cost Dani Sordo more than 11 minutes.
Saturday’s leg is the longest of the weekend. After a 05.00 departure from Alghero, competitors face two identical loops of stages covering 143.16km, placing high demands on tyre wear.
Outright standing after Friday:
1 Hayden Paddon/Seb Marshall (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 1h31m02.6s
2 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +8.2s
3 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) +9.5s
4 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +9.8s
5 Mads Ostberg/Ola Floene (Ford Fiesta WRC) +14.7s
6 Juho Hänninen/Kaj Lindström (Toyota Yaris WRC) +38.0s
7 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +41.0s
8 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1m05.3s
9 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Citroen C3 WRC) +1m57.9s
10 Eric Camilli/Benjamin Veillas (Ford Fiesta R5) +4m08.0s