A new rally star has been born. Taking full advantage of the circumstances presented, the New Zealander Hayden Paddon led the Sardinia Rally for all except the opening superspecial and the final seven stages, an achievement never equalled by any of his fellow countrymen outside his home territory, and eventually finished second behind the VW of world champion Sebastien Ogier. Paddon‚Äôs fellow Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville inherited third place after a troubled event when Mads Ostberg‚Äôs Citroen had brake problems and he dropped to fifth. A steady drive to fourth place by Elfyn Evans was the saving grace for a disappointing rally for M-Sport with other team drivers suffering problems. It was a rally full of heartache. Kris Meeke went off the road on the opening gravel stage, Jari-Matti Latvala twice suffered heavily from punctures and Andreas Mikkelsen twice wrecked the suspension on his brand new VW.
Notwithstanding his usual complaints at the misfortune of leading the championship, and having to run first car on the road for the first two full days, this time Ogier’s¬†hated running order position was no bad thing. The stages were certainly being cleaned of loose surface gravel but later drivers found the tracks were being progressively more littered by rocks, some of them causing damage out of all proportion. Also on Day 2 the earlier misfortunes of rival drivers who were required to run at the front of the field eased Ogier‚Äôs anguish, but the way that he could not catch up with eleventh running Paddon, even when Ogier was running fifth, showed that the world champion was not having an easy time. With every stage we believed that Paddon‚Äôs lead, firstly over Latvala then over Ogier, even when stages started to be run for a second time, would be reduced but it wasn‚Äôt. At the three-quarter distance of the rally, Paddon was still 9 seconds in the lead, but then the dream came to an end. Paddon found a rock at just the wrong position in the road and his gearbox mounting was broken. He struggled through the final three stages of Day 2. His pressure eased when Tanak behind him stopped for the day and Paddon concentrated on guaranteeing his second place.
Despite the challenge of the abrasive surfaces and on account of unexpectedly damper conditions on Day 1, tyre selection was again in debate, with several drivers unusually using some of the limited quantity of the soft compound tyres for use on the rear of the car to add traction with the more plentiful hards on the front. The rally began with an asphalt seafront superspecial stage in the south of the island at Cagliari where competitors ran in a spectator friendly sequence allowing the Pirelli WRC driver Martin Prokop to lead the event on Thursday night, taking advantage of a burst water filled plastic barrier which slowed some of his rivals down. Come Friday morning the rally began in earnest and Paddon‚Äôs new life began. He was enjoying the chance to use a paddleshift gearchange system for the first time ‚Äď ‚Äúa very big difference, it helps you use the engine more!‚ÄĚ‚Äď and after four stages he was nearly a half minute in the lead. Hyundai drivers were doing well, Dani Sordo was up to fourth but then wrecked the suspension on the last stage of Day 1, Thierry Neuville was up to fifth before he had a loose turbo pipe. At the midday halt on Day 2 Sordo stopped with a fuel leak.
Citroen had their hopes pinned on Mads Ostberg after Kris Meeke crashed on Day 1, and a podium position looked assured on Sunday when suddenly Ostberg‚Äôs intercom failed and he slid off the road, damaging the brakes and instead he finished in a disappointing fifth place. M-Sport‚Äôs fortunes were no happier with Tanak ending a promising drive when suddenly his car stopped in a stage, stuck in top gear. Robert Kubica had a miserable event, impacting a stone wall on stage 3, then had a puncture after he restarted the next day. Early leader Prokop retired with engine trouble after his oil pump was damaged. Lorenzo Bertelli retired on the final day with a broken differential. Ogier continued, taking full advantage of the conditions, making the best use of his tyres and won the rally.
Volkswagen and Ogier continued to hold their leads in the Makes‚Äô and Drivers‚Äô championships, with Ostberg up into second place again. Through all the stories the one abiding memory was of the 28 year old Hayden Paddon who had carved his way into the WRC through never ending endeavour and determination with the support and of help of friends of his sport-loving nation who believe in excellence and fair play, who encouraged not only a New Zealander but a Kiwi who comes from the far south of his small but mighty country.
Excitement of another degree came in the hotly contested WRC2 category. 23 cars started the event, and leading after sixteen of the 23 stages was Paolo Andreucci, the 50 year old Italian driver who had not competed in a world championship rally for the past eleven years. He was at the wheel of a Peugeot 208 T16, a car of R5 design which traditionally was not as suitable for really hot and rough events compared with RRC cars. In the end it was Yuriy Protasov‚Äôs Fiesta RRC car beating Andreucci by 5.6 seconds while third was the Skoda Fabia R5 of Jan Kopecky, who was also making his first appearance in the WRC for seven years.
Chasing Andreucci hard through Day 1 was Kopecky‚Äôs Esapekka Lappi, but he damaged his steering on a rock and suffered a lot of lost time on what proved to be a highly competitive event. Also suffering unusually from the pressure was Nasser Al Attiyah, who made a bold tyre choice on Day 1, wore out his tyres and lost a lot of time off the road. Andreucci entered the notoriously tough Day 2 stages with a lead of well over a minute, progressively allowing the Fiesta RRC of Protasov to catch him, and then himself went off the road and damaged his car when swerving to avoid a rock in the middle of a fast bend. This let Protasov into the lead, before he punctured, giving Andreucci the lead back again. But the Ukraine driver finally clinched victory with three stages to go. Al Attiyah finished fifth overall. Yazeed Al Rajhi, Scott Pedder and Karl Kruuda were among the retirements. Al Attiyah retook the lead in the WRC2 Drivers‚Äô category ahead of Al Kuwari while in the WRC2 Teams‚Äô Cup Autotek-Drive DMack‚Äôs lead has been reduced to just two points over Youth & Sports Qatar. In the Production Car sub category Gianluca Linari now held the lead.
Four competitors started in the WRC3 category and both Andrea Crugnola and Fabio Andolfi lead through Days 1 and 2. Day 2 was one of attrition. Giuseppe Testa managed only to complete the first stage Teemu Suninen took the lead after stage 12 and on stage 14 both Crugnola and Andolfi stopped. Suninen the only competitor still running built up a 14 minute lead before he joined the Rally2 club on stage 16, leaving no competitors in the category on the final four stages of the day. Although all four drivers won stages, Crugnola was the fastest winning 9 of the stages in his Renault Clio, Suninen came through as the last man standing and victory went to him in his Citroen DS3. In WRC3 both Eric Veiby and Quentin Gilbert in the Drivers‚Äô and Printsport in the WRC3 Teams retain their respective leads in the categories.