Kiwi rally driver Hayden Paddon has quickly come to grips with his new car and was second after the first day of Rally Sweden, and he also played a leading hand in avoiding a driver's boycott.
Paddon and co-driver John Kennard won the last two stages of the day in their New Generation Hyundai i20 WRC, jumping from sixth to second overall, 26.9 seconds behind reigning world champion Sebastien Ogier in a Volkswagen. They were able to complete six stages - eight stages were originally scheduled - but a lack of snow initially played havoc with the plans. As heavy snow started to fall, three stages were run in reverse order, and Paddon excelled as others got into trouble or suffered mechanical woes.
Paddon is hopeful of benefitting again tonight (NZT) with their road position of ninth (running order is decided by championship places for the first two days) when more snow is forecast. Just 15 seconds separated Paddon in second and Andreas Mikkelsen in sixth.
Mikkelsen was Ogier's closest challenger until he hit a tree stump and spun, losing 20 seconds, and Kris Meeke was another casualty. The British driver had been second when he hit a stone buried in the road and the impact sent his car into retirement.
"To be in second was much more than we were expecting, especially after this morning," he said. "We had an advantage this afternoon [running ninth on the road] which was a disadvantage this morning when there was no snow. To come up to second, to be in a good close fight with four or five of us to be on the podium tomorrow is a nice position to be in, but it's going to be a big fight, very close. We have to try to find some improvements overnight, try to get a bit more comfortable in the car. There's a lot more room for improvement so we have to keep pushing."
Ogier won all three morning stages near the border between Sweden and Norway to build a 24.2sec cushion but heavy afternoon snow left him at a disadvantage as road opener, creating a clean line for the benefit of later starters.
A plan by a number of drivers to boycott the opening stage and drive directly to the start of the second special stage was averted due to a lack of agreement between the drivers, including Paddon. They were reportedly unhappy at what they saw as a lack of consultation from the FIA, WRC promoter and event organiser over safety. They felt it could have been dangerous because of a lack of snow on the roads.
The plan to boycott the first stage was thwarted when Paddon refused to comply on the direction of his team, according to autosport.com. Paddon said he agreed with his fellow drivers' stance but not their methods.
"It wasn't just me. It was our team," he told Autosport. "The other drivers wanted a commitment at six o'clock and I wasn't prepared to risk my job at six in the morning.
"Of course, I agree with the principle of what we're debating and I think the drivers should be involved in that process, but if you're going to make a protest, then you have to actually threaten on what you're going to do and then you do it. You can't really do it by just boycotting a stage.
"My opinion is that this was about more than just us drivers. We're dealing with organisers who are really struggling here and there were a lot of spectators who had paid their money to get in there."