New Zealand's reigning Production World Rally champion Hayden Paddon's aspirations of back-to-back world championships took what will probably be a mortal blow in France at the weekend.
After two days of rallying in the all-tarmac event, Paddon and co-driver John Kennard slid into a ditch during one of the day's final stages and were left literally stuck in the mud.
"We were taking it really easy all day in the tricky, muddy conditions and taking absolutely no risks," said Paddon afterwards.
By the end of the morning's three stages, Paddon had a lead of nearly two minutes over Irishman Craig Breen, who had moved into second. The afternoon's first repeated stage, special stage 20, was to bring a sad end to Paddon's rally.
"It was the smallest of mistakes, running slightly wide on a muddy, tight right-hand corner (first gear) and the rear wheel slightly touching the grass. This then sucked the car into the ditch where we were stuck.
"There we still [had] two wheels of the car on the road, but we just could not get the car out.
"I'm a little lost for words right now, in a year that has never really got going like we would have liked. This is the first mistake that I have made like this in the past three years - and it came at the completely wrong time.
"I am incredibly disappointed with myself and so sorry for everyone that I have let down."
Unable to continue, Paddon had to watch Breen take the SWRC category win in France, from Yazeed Al Rajhi and Andreas Aigner.
PG Anderson recovered from his day three exit to finish fourth.
Paddon's SWRC championship hopes have all but ended.
Much will have to befall Breen, Andersson and Al Rajhi if the Kiwi is to have a chance at the next and last round in Spain, on November 8-11.
He'll need all the luck the mechanical gods can send his way, and although it's not a good thought, he'll also need a whole heap of trouble to befall those ahead of him in the title race.By Eric Thompson