Paddon’s plan on his Argentina debut had been to drive steadily through the opening day, not risking anything and “driving like his grandmother Ethel”, before pressing on through the faster roads on day two. His strategy was going to plan until a dramatic final stage decimated the leaderboard.
Having completed the penultimate test, Mina Clavero-Giulio Cesare, Swede Patrik Flodin was leading in his Subaru. He’d been fastest on the previous three stages and was looking largely untroubled as he built his lead over Michal Kosciuszko’s Mitsubishi Lancer.
The crews had to stop after the penultimate stage of the day at a compulsory refuel, after which Flodin’s Impreza steadfastly refused to restart. His despair promoted Paddon from second to third before the New Zealander inherited the lead when Kosciuszko stopped on the final test.
“It was a pretty amazing last stage,” said the Kiwi. “I hadn’t really expected that. We were taking it steady today, nothing dramatic. The plan was for more of a push tomorrow, but with a lead like the one we’ve got, I think we might have another look at that plan.”
Paddon’s day hadn’t been entirely trouble-free as his Subaru was hit by its own electrical gremlins, which limited the car to just 70 per cent throttle from stage four onwards.
“We’re not sure what it is,” admitted Paddon. “The boys are going to change loads of stuff tonight. We think it’s electrical, so we will need to have a good look at it.”
A faulty turbo had been suspected earlier in the day and Paddon collected a 10-second penalty out of lunchtime service as his Symtech Racing mechanics tried to fix the car.
Another driver in trouble was PWRC title leader Martin Semerad. The Czech Republic youngster, who has switched from his family-run Lancer Evolution IX to a hired Evolution X for the trip to South America, has contested two rounds this year, compared to Paddon’s one, and leads the New Zealander by 15 points. But his challenge suffered a major setback when he went out on stage four.
“I caught something with the right-front and it broke the wheel,” he said. “It was really frustrating, it was just when the stage was opening up and getting a bit faster - the part of the stage I liked! We’ll be back with SupeRally tomorrow.”
Local hero and wildcard entrant Alejandro Levy is second at the end of the opening day in his Lancer. The reigning Argentine Federal champion is contesting his second Rally Argentina and thrilled the huge crowds by placing his car on the provisional podium, albeit seven minutes down on Paddon. Russian Dmitry Tagirov is third overnight in his Subaru.
There was frustration for British driver Harry Hunt, who retired with a broken radiator following an off on stage four in his Citroen DS3 R3. Like several of his PWRC rivals, the 22-year-old hopes to return under SupeRally regulations for Saturday’s stages.