New Zealand rally driver Hayden Paddon held a slender lead of just 2.2 seconds over Irishman Craig Breen in the Super 2000 World Rally Championship category after the first day of the Rally of France, despite a high-speed spin that cost him 20 seconds.
Paddon and co-driver John Kennard won five of the seven stages on the first day of the rally to put themselves in a good position to challenge for the overall title.
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, he was second equal with Breen on the championship table with 68 points. The pair were eight points behind category leader Per-Gunnar Andersson but the Swedish driver was more than a minute behind Breen in third.
"We're happy to get to end of first day without too many problems," Paddon said. "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.
"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."
Paddon won two stages in the morning before backing it up with three wins in the afternoon as the weather improved.
"We are currently in a really good fight with Craig Breen and tomorrow promises to be exciting," Paddon said. "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 180km of stages including a repeat run of the longest stage of the rally which is 44km. 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."