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.