Rally de Portugal
Paddon dominates PWRC in Portugal
New Zealander Hayden Paddon has dominated the opening day of the Production Car World Rally Championship on Vodafone Rally de Portugal.
The former Pirelli Star Driver belied his lack of experience of the Subaru Impreza WRX, following his closed-season switch from Mitsubishi, to lead from the first Friday morning stage until the close of play this evening.
Paddon’s perfect day included fastest times on five of the six gravel stages run today. Even the double New Zealand rally champion was surprised at his lead at the end of the day - 33.3 seconds over Anders Grondal (Subaru) and more than three minutes over third-placed Ricardo Moura (Mitsubishi).
Paddon’s task was made slightly easier when PWRC pacesetter Patrik Flodin rolled his Impreza on the second stage this morning, dropping eight minutes and any chance of challenging for victory on this second round of the series.
Paddon, however, did not put a wheel out of place. “It hasn’t felt quick at all in the car,” he said. “I’ve just been getting used to the car. We did a two-day test in Spain before the start but when it comes to competition there’s always mistakes like missing gears and things like that. There’s definitely more speed to come from me and the car. To be honest, I am surprised to be where we are. We pushed harder towards the end of the final stage tonight, just to build the lead that bit more.”
Grondal is the only driver still in touching distance of the leader. This is the Norwegian’s first trip to this rally and the tricky nature of the switchback Portuguese gravel roads were taking some getting used to.
He said: “I’m annoyed that Paddon is faster than me. We made some changes at lunchtime to make the car easier over the rocks, but it made it harder to drive. I’ll have to keep trying.”
Flodin’s day went from bad to worse when he suffered a broken driveshaft at he start of stage five and let more minutes slip by in the afternoon. “It’s not funny now...” was the Swede’s comment afterwards.
Moura was delighted to be third in the PWRC fight, but admitted his priorities were elsewhere in the Portuguese Rally Championship.
“This is my home rally, but I don’t know the stages as well as I would like,” said the Azores resident. “I need to think about the points for the Portuguese championship.”
Ukranian driver Oleksandr Saliuk (Mitsubishi) admitted to some minor pace note problems through the morning, but he was just 15 seconds off the bottom step of the provisional podium on Friday night.
Mexican Benito Guerra was also in the thick of that fight in his Mitsubishi, enjoying the stages on his birthday and his PWRC debut.
Jukka Ketomaki is a distant sixth after a problem with the rear cross-member on his Lancer. Round one winner Martin Semerad suffered a more fundamental problem when the tyres on his Mitsubishi lost all their tread.
Among the drivers not making it to the end of Friday was Michal Kosciuszko, who broke the gearbox on his Mitsubishi and retired on stage four.
Breen heads WRC Academy in Portugal
Craig Breen tops the WRC Academy leaderboard following the opening day of competition on Vodafone Rally de Portugal.
Breen is one of 18 rising stars competing on the Faro-based event in identical Ford Fiesta R2s using Pirelli tyres.
After moving into the lead on Friday’s first test, the Irishman capitalised on his previous experience of the event - and his M-Sport-built Fiesta - to gradually extend his advantage, which stands at 48.4s heading into the final day on Saturday.
“My plan was to pull out a big enough lead if there was a problem and I pushed really hard on the first stage after nearly stalling,” said Breen, one of six Pirelli Star Drivers in action on the demanding Algarve stages. “We had a bit of gearbox trouble at the end of stage two and we also had an engine mount break. Apart from that it’s been a very good day.”
Estonian Egon Kaur is second overnight after overcoming intercom problems during the early running. He celebrated a promising opening day by recording the fastest Academy time on stage seven.
Northern Irishman Alastair Fisher, making a rare start in a left-hand drive machine, is third overall. Fisher lost time running behind Brendan Reeves when the Australian picked up a puncture in the morning. But Fisher hit back by setting the fastest Academy time on stage six.
Swede Victor Henriksson battle back from driveshaft problems to hold fourth spot, one place ahead of German Christian Riedemann, who reported making a handful of driving errors in the morning.
Czech Jan Cerny is sixth with Swede Fredrik Ahlin seventh and Argentine Miguel Baldoni eighth. Ahlin said it was difficult adapting to the Portuguese stages having only rallied in his native Scandinavia until recently.
Timo van der Marel from the Netherlands and Sergey Karyakin complete the top 10 in ninth and 10th respectively. Russian Karyakin’s Fiesta is nursing several dents after he was involved in a collision with a spectator’s car on a road section.
After losing four minutes with his puncture in the morning, Reeves dropped more ground with a broken engine mounting in the afternoon. But he fared better than fellow Australian Molly Taylor, who rolled on the final stage of the day. Taylor completed the stage and is 13th at the end of day one, eight seconds down on 17-year-old Estonian Mik-Ove Niinemae who is contesting his fourth rally.
Yeray Lemes led the category after Thursday’s superspecial in Lisbon but retired with driveshaft failure on stage six. Andrea Crugnola also suffered a broken driveshaft. Calle Ward stopped with engine problems, Matteo Brunello was slowed by suspension problems while Jose Suarez crashed.
Drivers will tackle a further six stages on Saturday when the results of the inaugural WRC Academy event will be declared. However, rather than continuing their on-stage battle on Sunday, the Academy participants will spend the final day in a debrief session where they will analyse their respective performances.