Hayden Paddon and co-driver Seb Marshall are sixth after the first full day of Rally Italia Sardegna where unseasonal rain throughout the day created tricky conditions for all on Friday (CEST).
A key challenge was how to pick the most effective combination of soft and hard Michelin tyres for rain-drenched roads which were totally uncharacteristic of the typically hot and dusty Sardinian gravel stages.
After a solid run on Thursday evening’s super special stage, the pair were fifth overall heading into Friday’s 126.18km and eight stages. Friday’s running order is defined by current drivers’ championship position, so Paddon ran 11th on the road. With the stages getting more difficult and often slippery with every passing car, Paddon had his work cut out for him, finishing the morning loop of four stages down in ninth overall in a close battle with those surrounding him on the leader-board.
Standing water on the early afternoon stages saw most times slower than the morning runs. Despite an overshoot on SS5, Paddon and Marshall managed the fifth quickest time to inch up to eighth overall. Bemoaning the difficulty of picking the right tyres for the conditions, Paddon pushed on through the afternoon. The demise of Ott Tänak and Teemu Suninen on SS9 allowed Paddon to move up into sixth overall, just over a minute behind rally leader Sebastien Ogier and only 3.2 seconds behind Mads Ostberg in fifth.
Speaking of Friday’s eight stages, Paddon said: “We can’t be happy with our performance or results today. Whatever we have tried just hasn’t worked. Nothing has been clicking. We took a bit of a gamble this morning with the tyre choice, expecting it to dry out more than it eventually did. Tyres aside, we haven’t had the rhythm we need, nor the confidence to push. We have had little choice but to play the sensible game and get to the end of the day without having any issues. We are in the top-six but that is little consolation. We need to let the times come more naturally, and there are some things you can’t shake a magic wand at. We’ll sleep on it tonight and start again on Saturday morning.”
Seven stages will be run on Saturday over a competitive distance of 146.56km – the longest individual day of the event – before the rally concludes on Sunday. It’s anticipated Paddon and Marshall will run third on the road and the stages are expected to be drier than Friday’s conditions.