Hayden Paddon won Friday morning’s opening speed test at Vodafone Rally de Portugal to take the lead in his Hyundai i20 Coupe.
Stage info: SS2
SS2: Viana do Castelo 1, 26.70km
Last year’s stage is extended by 10.9km to offer a tougher challenge. It is the fastest test of the day and one with plenty of loose surface gravel to hinder early starters. It begins on a sandy surface before a short section of cobblestones at 4.6km. There are several other surface changes and plenty of climbing before the road narrows in the second half, with twisty sections among trees.
The New Zealand driver, who was third in last night’s short curtain-raiser, stopped the clocks 1.0sec faster than Jari-Matti Latvala in the 26.70km Viana do Castelo special stage to head the Finn by 2.4sec in the standings.
“I was really focused on my driving, nice and clean and tidy. There wasn’t a lot of grip. The road was OK in the wide parts but I was too tentative in the narrow section where it was soft and sandy,” Paddon explained.
Lack of grip was a common complaint. The test, close to the Spanish border, had a good surface near the start but became progressively wetter and softer and drivers further down the start order began to struggle for traction.
Kris Meeke was just two-tenths of a second behind Latvala’s Toyota Yaris. The Northern Irishman lost a little of the front aero from his Citroën C3 but was in good spirits. “A nice rhythm and the car seems to be working well. Happy cars mean happy drivers!” he said.
Ott Tänak and Craig Breen were tied in fourth with Mads Østberg completing the top six in his Ford Fiesta. Østberg, who was tied for the lead with Thierry Neuville overnight, slipped to fourth overall.
Neuville, who is bidding for a hat-trick of victories, was perplexed at his time. The Belgian was only 12th fastest in his i20, almost 13sec off the pace. “I had a good feeling and thought I did a good stage time. But no. I have no idea why. I’m always cautious on the opening day in Portugal. I try to keep it safe,” he said.