Paddon seals PWRC hat trick at Neste Oil Rally Finland
Kiwi pairing Hayden Paddon and John Kennard successfully navigated their Suburu Impreza to victory for the third time in-a-row on only their third event of the season this weekend at Neste Oil Rally Finland, the fourth round of the 2011 FIA Production car World Rally Championship (PWRC). However, Paddon’s victory wasn’t as effortless as in Portugal and Argentina. Battling for supremacy with more experienced drivers, Paddon couldn’t match the early pace of 2010 PWRC runner-up Patrik Flodin (SWE, Subaru) or 2009 Pirelli Star Driver and local hero Jarkko Nikara (FIN, Mitsubishi).
It was Flodin who set the bar high, blasting straight to the front of the pack with rip-roaring speed on SS1, but Nikara was happy to rise to the challenge. They sparred for the lead throughout the first afternoon, Flodin finishing SS2 with only a 0.5 second advantage over Nikara before Nikara tore through SS3 to squeeze 0.5 seconds ahead of Flodin at the end of Day One.
Paddon sat in a comfortable third, but firmly reasserted his place in the mix for victory with a stage win on SS4, the opening stage of Day Two. Then, when Nikara lost his brakes, left the road and dropped over two minutes on SS5, Flodin and Paddon were left to battle for the top spot. Flodin took the advantage with consecutive stage wins on SS5 and SS6, but then bent a wheel on SS9, causing him to drop to third by the end of SS11 and Day Two. This left Paddon in pole position with nearly a minute’s lead, as 26-year old Finnish guest driver and Spirit of the Rally winner Mikko Pajunen (FIN) moved into second, showing phenomenal speed in his two-wheel drive Renault Clio R3.
Neither Nikara nor Flodin were prepared to let their Kiwi rival relax though and on the first loop of Day Three, Paddon began to feel the pressure as they ripped flat out through the stages behind him. Nikara won nine stages on Day Three, narrowing the overnight gap that Paddon had drawn out of over two minutes to only 43 seconds by the end of the day. He finished a remarkable second, despite his Day Two troubles, but a puncture on SS17 left him unable to steal the top spot on the podium from Paddon. Meanwhile, Flodin passed Pajunen to move into third, which he held, claiming 15 PWRC points, but suffered when his gearbox broke on SS15, a turbo pipe came loose on SS17 and then suspension problems set in preventing him from maintaining the terrific pace he’s known for.
Jukka Ketomäki (FIN, Mitsubishi) followed them home in fourth, with 2009 JWRC runner-up Michal Kościuszko (POL, Mitsubishi) claiming fifth and Pajunen finishing sixth in the PWRC, the third of three Finns in the top six, and picking up maximum points in the two-wheel drive Production Car Cup.
1st – HAYDEN PADDON (NZL): “It's pretty amazing to win here in Finland! We had quite a consistent weekend, but it wasn't easy. This morning especially when Nikara took so much time from us we felt some pressure and really had to push in the afternoon stages. This win puts us in quite a good position but we really have to do well in Australia to win the Championship.”
2nd – JARKKO NIKARA (FIN): “I tried hard this morning and I knew it was make or break. Unfortunately we got a puncture on SS17 and that ruined my victory hopes. This was my best WRC result so far though and it's also the first time I finished Rally Finland without superallying! Now, we are working really hard to come back to the WRC next year.”
3rd – PATRIK FLODIN (SWE): "It really wasn’t the weekend I was hoping for! I'm a little bit glad it's over. Considering all the problems we had third place is really good though. I'm afraid that for this year I can't do anything good in the Championship, but I will keep trying. I've had so many problems so far I just want to be successful now and show everyone what I’m capable of."