After the first day of Rallye de France Alsace, ace Kiwi drivers Hayden Paddon and John Kennard have a lead of just 2.2 seconds over Irishman Craig Breen in the Super 2000 World Rally Championship category.
Winning five of the first day’s seven stages, Paddon said: “We’re happy to get to end of first day without too many problems. Other than the spin, it’s been a good day. We’ve not been on the limit, just trying to learn where the grip is and how the Skoda handles on tarmac.”
With six SWRC competitors contesting the mountainous, tarmac French challenge, Paddon’s goal is to take the maximum 25 points by winning the category. Going into Rally France, Paddon holds second equal with Breen on the championship points-table. With 68 points each Paddon and Breen are eight points behind category leader Swedish driver Per-Gunnar Andersson.
The all-tarmac rally, the penultimate event of Paddon’s season, got underway with a short super special stage in host city Strasbourg on Thursday evening; Breen took the short stage win.
Paddon started Friday morning’s three stages which ran south of Strasbourg with two strong stage wins to go into the SWRC lead. But then a high-speed spin on stage four cost the Kiwis 20 seconds and the category lead went back to Breen for the midday halt in Colmar.
“It was a little tricky this morning with damp conditions and some mud that had been pulled out on to the road by the leading WRC cars. There were also varying tyre choices by many teams, of which there did not seem to be a right or wrong tyre call. We were able to build a good lead before the spin – we were lucky to just get away with that, after a ‘moment’ on a slippery right hander while flat out in fifth gear.”
The afternoon was dry and sunny as Paddon took three more stage wins on the repeated longer stages. While Breen again won the final, short, spectator packed Mulhouse stage, Paddon holds small lead of 2.2 seconds over Breen overnight. Andersson is over a minute behind Breen in third.
“We are currently in a really good fight with Craig Breen and tomorrow promises to be exciting. We won five of today’s seven stages, and we need to try and do the same tomorrow to try and build on our lead.
Tomorrow in the crucial day, with 180 km of stages including a repeat run of the longest stage of the rally which is 44 km. The weather will also play a part as some damp conditions are expected in the afternoon. We have made some setup changes overnight to improve some small areas of the car’s handling, and I have also been studying some car data to see where I can improve my driving. The car and the team have all been doing a great job.”
Photo: Honza Fronek
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