The Kiwi, who won last year’s Production Car world championship, was forced to play catch up to Proton’s P-G Andersson for the first two stages this morning, but when the Swede dropped his Satria-Neo S2000 on the third test, Paddon moved to the front of the field and stayed there for the remainder of the day.
Paddon admitted he hadn’t been overly concerned by Andersson’s pace, pointing out that he was saving his own charge for tomorrow’s stages north of Auckland which he prefers.
Andersson started the day with exceptional pace, posting eighth fastest time overall through the first stage. He would probably have repeated that feat on Whaanga Coast had it not been for a spin mid-way through the test. But then disaster struck for him in Te Akau South.
“We had too much speed going into a right-hand corner,” said Andersson. “I made the mistake making the notes on the recce, we had a four right and we should have had a three right. The car went off the road, I didn’t really even make it into the corner and it dropped down a steep bank. It wasn’t far off the road, but it was too steep to come back. It’s very frustrating.”
Proton’s day got even worse when the sister Satria of Alister McRae, then running second to Paddon, refused to fire at the start of the morning’s fourth and final test.
Yazeed Al-Rajhi was another SWRC driver to suffer a tough morning in his Ford Fiesta RRC. He was forced to stop on stage one to make repairs to his car’s gearbox. He then caught a slower car on stage two and was hit by a stone flicked up by the car running ahead, which damaged the Fiesta’s radiator and forced him out.
Fellow Ford driver Maciej Oleksowicz (Fiesta S2000) made it two stages further only to retire on stage four.
Presented with a four-minute lead going into the afternoon’s four stages, Paddon admitted his approach would be tempered.
“We can do a bit of testing this afternoon,” he said. “It’s a shame though, it would have been good to have a fight with the other guys. I wasn’t too worried about P-G. I don’t like Whaanga Coast, I don’t know why, I’ve just never got on with it, so I knew I could get some time back tomorrow.”
Despite his healthy advantage, there was a scare for Paddon when his Skoda was struck down by clutch and gearbox problems, which left him with second and sixth gears only. Fortunately he was able to make it back to service in Auckland where his mechanics will carry out an extensive overhaul ahead of Saturday’s tests.