Motorsport: Paddon extends lead in Rally France

Hayden Paddon will take close to a two-minute lead in the FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship category into the final day of the Rallye de France Alsace overnight (NZT).
Hayden Paddon will take close to a two-minute lead in the FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship category into the final day of the Rallye de France Alsace overnight (NZT).

Hayden Paddon will take close to a two-minute lead in the FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship category into the final day of the Rallye de France Alsace overnight (NZT).

Paddon and co-driver John Kennard added another five category stage wins to the five they won on the opening day to hold a strong lead over Yazeed Al Rajhi of Saudi Arabia. They were helped by mechanical problems that afflicted both championship rivals Craig Breen and Per-Gunnar Andersson.

With six SWRC competitors contesting the mountainous and twisty tarmac road in France, Paddon's goal is to take the maximum 25 points by winning the category. Going into Rally France, he was second equal with Breen on the championship table with 68 points. The pair were eight points behind category leader Andersson but the Swedish driver has had a challenging event because of mechanical issues.

Despite his reasonably comfortable lead, Paddon remained focussed on a steady performance on Sunday to close out the win.

"We have completed another successful day today in France, although our battle with our closest Craig Breen unfortunately ended in the afternoon when Craig had rear differential problems," Paddon said. "We finished the day one minute, 58.7 seconds ahead of Saudi driver Yazeed Al Rajhi and have a relatively short day on Sunday to complete the event.

"The morning was a strange one, with two of the four stages cancelled - the first due to a fellow competitor's accident mid-stage, and the second due to too many spectators on the stage. However, we did manage to build our lead to 15 seconds while driving at a comfortable pace."

The afternoon's four stages all ran as scheduled with Al Rajhi in a Ford providing Paddon with his only serious competition. Paddon took three stage wins, Al Rajhi one.

"With Craig losing a lot of time throughout the afternoon and current championship leader P-G Andersson spinning, getting a puncture and then having alternator problems, John and I were able back off a little and take it easy throughout the rest of the afternoon. We just kept the car in the middle of the road and took extra caution on the dirty sections."

Rain is expected for tonight's 61.54km of timed stages, broken into six short tests.

"Despite our lead, we still need to drive at a comfortable pace and not make any mistakes. That is our only priority now as this result would be the perfect outcome. Nevertheless, we are not going to count our chickens before they hatch. Just more of the same tomorrow, more time to get used to the car and maybe learn some more things about tarmac driving."

Andersson is due to restart tonight but, as he had a small eight-point advantage over Paddon and Breen who were second equal coming into Rally France, the SWRC championship lead looks likely to change by the end of the event.

- APNZ

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