Araujo’s closest competitor on the previous asphalt round of the P-WRC, Hayden Paddon was fastest away from the start this morning. Once again, the rapid Kiwi driver put aside his absence of asphalt experience to turn in an inspired drive on ever-changing conditions.
The New Zealander’s Pirelli Star Driver Mitsubishi was fastest on the first three stages, building a handy 11.4-second lead over Araujo. That advantage went south on the Grand Ballon test, where he suffered a front-right puncture five kilometres before the end of the stage. “There were loads of rocks and mud in the road, the puncture could have come from anything,” said Paddon. “I’d never driven on anything like that before.”
Worse was to come for Paddon who posted further fastest times in the afternoon before retiring from day one with alternator failure at the end of SS7.
Araujo’s hopes of catching Paddon in the early part of the loop were hit by the drier-than-expected weather which meant his softly-suspended Lancer wasn’t offering as much grip as it might through the first four stages.
Araujo’s hopes of rectifying the set-up were hit by the fact that the lunchtime halt was only a remote service in Mulhouse, meaning the mechanics could only work on the car using the parts Araujo was carrying in the car. Going into the final stage of the day, the Portuguese was a little more relieved; Paddon was gone and his nearest rival was now Anders Grondal, who was close to a minute down in his Subaru.
Leader Araujo said: “I’m still not happy with the set-up. That last stage has been really difficult. The last part of that [last] stage was about surviving. I’m happy to be here.”
Grondal repeated those sentiments about the second run through Grand Ballon. His day hadn’t been trouble-free: like fellow Subaru runner Toshi Arai, he lost the brakes for the final seven kilometres of the first run at the 24-kilometre Grand Ballon test.
Ott Tanak was a subdued third in P-WRC, the Pirelli Star Driver still coming to terms with the requirements of driving on asphalt. Despite the tricky conditions, the 22-year-old Estonian emerged unscathed and a wiser man for his efforts.
Arai’s morning had been an interesting one; not only did he lose the brakes on his Impreza, but he was also struggling to hear co-driver Daniel Barritt courtesy of an intercom problem.
Scotsman Dave Weston was fifth at the end of the day, despite some late-in-the-day gearbox trouble in his Subaru. Alex Raschi’s Lancer rounded out Friday’s top six.
Rally results links on wrc.com: