Rally de Portugal
Perfect Paddon still on top in PWRC
Kiwi Hayden Paddon drove another faultless day to dominate Production Car World Rally Championship proceedings on Vodafone Rally de Portugal.
Subaru driver Paddon started the day with a healthy lead over his nearest rival Anders Grondal. Fastest time on the opening test - the 26-kilometre run through Almodovar - was enough for the former Pirelli Star Driver to move more than a minute clear of his Norwegian rival.
That gap mushroomed to almost three minutes on the next test when Grondal suffered a broken cross member which led to a transmission fault leaving his Subaru in three-wheel drive for the second half of the morning.
With the car fixed, Grondal went out in the afternoon to consolidate his second position, only to suffer a big accident on the penultimate stage of the day. His Impreza ended the event more than 40 metres off the road, but Grondal and co-driver Veronica Engan were uninjured.
Having started the day a minute ahead, Paddon ended day two with more than six minutes in hand over second-placed Benito Guerra.
“Before the event, I’d been thinking if we could get to this stage in the lead, that would be great,” said Paddon. “I thought a 30-second lead would be fantastic ahead of what’s looking like a really tough final day, so six minutes is pretty incredible - I certainly didn’t expect that! It’s actually been quite tough today, we’ve been babying around and not taking any risks. We had a bit of a push this morning and managed to bend some parts on the car because the stages were so rough, so I was actually quite glad we didn’t have to go flat out through the afternoon.
“Now I just want to get to the finish, that’s what it’s all about now. We’re working with a few things on the car, just to get us some more experience, but really we just want to get through tomorrow and take the points.”
Mexican Mitsubishi driver Guerra moved up to third place, ahead of Oleksandr Saliuk on the third stage this morning and then moved into a potentially career-best PWRC runner-up spot when Grondal went out.
“I am very happy today,” said Guerra. “It’s been a very good day. We won two places in one stage earlier. It’s been rough in places, but we have been careful, but to be honest this is like a dream!”
Jukka Ketomaki was third at the end of the day, despite his Lancer making some odd noises through the second day of competition.
The man with the most to smile about on Saturday was Martin Semerad. The PWRC title leader switched to the medium compound DMACK - thanks to special dispensation from the FIA - and he rocketed up the leaderboard to an overnight fourth.
“Today has been much better,” said the Czech Republic driver. “We have good grip from the tyres and everything has gone well for us. We’re happy.”
Ukranian Valeriy Gorban’s Mitsubishi is fifth, with Grondal still classified sixth despite his crash.
Kaur is the first FIA WRC Academy winner
Egon Kaur has begun his quest for the 500,000 Euros career incentive fund offered to the inaugural FIA WRC Academy champion by winning the first ever round in Portugal.
Kaur began Saturday’s final day in second overall, 48.4s adrift of first place. After slipping to third in the morning through a combination of minor driving a pace note errors, the Estonian regained second when overnight leader Craig Breen retired.
However, with two stages remaining Kaur trailed Northern Irish driver Alastair Fisher by more than one minute. But when Fisher rolled into a tree one kilometre from the finish of the penultimate stage, Kaur was able to inherit a lead he wouldn’t relinquish.
“I’m so happy,” said the 23-year-old. “We had some problems this morning and even though I didn’t imagine I could win I did not give up. I have learned a lot and progressed a lot. This is the perfect start for me.”
Victor Henriksson, from Sweden, finished second despite having to nurse a faulty driveshaft through the closing stages of the event. German Christian Riedemann took third with Australian Brendan Reeves recovering from his puncture on Friday to claim fourth.
After losing five minutes while spectators helped to haul his Ford Fiesta R2 back onto its wheels following his roll on stage 12, Fisher limped to the finish in fifth overall. “I was so close, I’m just so disappointed because I only made this one mistake all rally,” said the 22-year-old.
Behind sixth-placed Argentine Miguel Baldoni, Andrea Crugnola recovered from a handful of overshoots to finish seventh with Molly Taylor eighth. The Australian - one of six Pirelli Star Drivers in action on the event - rolled on Friday’s final test and reported a problem with her car’s alignment on Saturday, which she suspected was a legacy of the incident.
Italy’s Matteo Brunello recovered from a handful of moments to take ninth with Dutchman Timo van der Marel completing the list of finishers in 10th following suspension problems on Saturday morning.
Portugal is famed for its demanding gravel stages and several drivers hit trouble on the final day. Czech Jan Cerny dropped out with a broken driveshaft, rear suspension failure accounted for Spaniard Yeray Lemes, while Fredrik Ahlin stopped on stage 12 when he was on course for his second fastest stage time of the event. Russian Sergey Karayakin’s challenge ended on the final stage of the rally.
While Breen’s hopes of victory where dashed, the Irishman didn’t leave Portugal entirely empty handed after bagging five points for his quintet of stage wins. Ahlin, Fisher, Henriksson, Kaur and Lemes also recorded fastest stage times.
Of the 18 rising young stars who took part on the opening superspecial stage in Lisbon on Thursday 10 reached the finish in Faro this evening. Rather than continuing their on-stage battle on Sunday, the Academy participants will spend the final day of Vodafone Rally de Portugal in a debrief session where they will analyse their respective performances.