Hayden Paddon blitzed his rivals in Saturday’s opening speed test at Kennards Hire Rally Australia to climb into second and raise the pressure on leader Andreas Mikkelsen.
Stage info: SS12
Nambucca 1, 50.80km
Nambucca is one of the longest stages of the season. It is fast and flowing with big corners and crests, although there is a 4km area in the middle which is extremely tight between trees. Jumps and small sections of asphalt mean this test has everything. Loose gravel means staying on the clean line will be key.
He won the marathon Nambucca stage and was 10.2sec quicker than Mikkelsen, vaulting his Hyundai i20 up the order from an overnight fourth to lie 13.5sec behind the Norwegian’s Volkswagen Polo R.
Paddon’s time was all the more remarkable as dust filled the car, leaving the Kiwi and co-driver John Kennard covered from head to foot.
“From the very first corner dust billowed into the car. I tried to ignore it but it was a bit distracting. I thought maybe the rear door was open but perhaps there’s a hole somewhere under the car,” Paddon explained.
Thick gravel covered the shire roads and the early starters struggled for traction. With temperatures already at 25˚C, hard compound tyres were the option for virtually everyone. The exception was road opener Sébastien Ogier who opted for softs in an attempt to maximise grip.
“I don’t know what’s the correct choice,” said Mikkelsen. “Four softs would have been correct for the first car but I’m a few cars back and I’m not sure that would have worked. I think hard tyres were the right choice for me, although I felt a lack of grip. Not an easy stage.”
Fourth fastest for Ogier left the Frenchman 4.3sec behind Paddon in the standings. “I had no choice but to take soft tyres. There is so much loose gravel that I had to try that to get some grip,” he explained.
Thierry Neuville slipped off the podium after managing only eighth fastest in his i20. The Belgian was more than 22sec behind Paddon and dropped 34.6sec off the lead.
“Hard tyres were right for me. I couldn’t have gone on softs, the car was still moving like hell at the rear,” said Neuville, who reckoned he lost a handful of seconds in hanging dust.
Dani Sordo climbed ahead of Eric Camilli into sixth, despite overshooting a junction in the dust. Ott Tänak was faster than Paddon at the opening split but his tyres wilted in the heat and the Estonian ended fifth fastest.