Paddon takes lead at Rally of Argentina

Hayden Paddon. Photo / File.
Hayden Paddon. Photo / File.

New Zealanders Hayden Paddon and John Kennard are leading the rough, rocky Argentinian round of the FIA World Rally Championship at the conclusion of Saturday's action.

The pair has a margin of 29.8 seconds over three-time WRC champion Sébastien Ogier going into Sunday's final three competitive stages and could take out their first-ever WRC rally victory.

Having held a strong second place in the overall standings for much of Friday and Saturday in their new generation Hyundai i20 WRC car, the Kiwis moved to the top of the leader-board when rally leader Jari-Matti Latvala crashed heavily on special stage 14 on Saturday afternoon.


From the commencement of Friday's competitive stages, Paddon and Kennard have been mixing stage times and places with Latvala and Ogier, Volkswagen's two top drivers. On Friday, they secured their 11th WRC stage win to match the New Zealand record set by the late, great Possum Bourne during his career. On Saturday, they secured three more WRC stage wins to bring their total to 14. On the 19.71km special stage 10, Paddon blitzed his rivals with a record-making stage time of 9 minutes 58.3 seconds and was the only one to break the 10-minute barrier.

Speaking at Saturday's midday service break back in the rally's host city of Villa Carlos Paz, 700km west of Buenos Aires, Paddon said: "A good morning. Obviously we were going to push this morning and we were able to do that. The feeling in the car was very good, particularly in the fast sections. There were a few [hairy] moments here and there, but you're always going to have those when you're trying. We lost a little bit too much in the last technical stage this morning, but we've been able to build a good solid gap to Seb Ogier behind us now in the third and we've been able to maintain the gap, 10 seconds to Jari. It's difficult to catch Jari on speed alone, but we've just got to keep the pressure on and anything can still happen."

Wrapping up Saturday's action following Latvala's crash and his move to the top of the leader-board, Paddon said: "A very good day today. We're very surprised to be leading the rally but it's a nice position to be in. Following a good morning, we unfortunately struggled a bit this afternoon with the tyre choice. It's very unfortunate what happened to Jari with his accident but we were close enough to put on the pressure and pick up the pieces.

"There's still a long way to go with very tough stages," added Paddon as he chases his maiden WRC victory in only his second full season competing at the top of world rally sport. "We have to try and stay relaxed tonight and calm tomorrow because a 30sec lead over a three-time world champion on some of the toughest stages in the championship is not a big gap. We'll try to keep a good speed and try and make no mistakes tomorrow."

Paddon's Hyundai Motorsport team-mates Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville are holding fourth and seventh respectively.

This is not the first time Paddon and Kennard have led a WRC event - in 2015, they topped the leader-board at Rally Italy Sardinia for 15 stages before a spin which meant they secured their first-ever second place in a WRC event. Since then, they secured another second place at this year's Rally Finland.

Sunday's final leg of Rally Argentina comprises 55.28 competitive kilometres broken into three stages, including two runs in the famed El Condor stage with its moonlike landscape among the rock-strewn roads of the Traslasierra mountains. The sunshine from earlier in the weekend is due to give way to rain and much cooler temperatures, so the final day could yet spring surprises.

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